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TV Review: ‘Imposters’ on Bravo

Variety logo Variety 2/4/2017 Sonia Saraiya
© Provided by Variety

For a show about a con artist specializing in heartbreak, “Imposters” is surprisingly funny. Right after gorgeous, accented Ava (Inbar Levi) cleans out her nice Jewish husband, Ezra (Rob Heaps), of all of his savings, Ezra tries to kill himself. But “Imposters” plays the scene as comedy — first demonstrating the futility of trying to stick your head in a modern-day oven, with its built-in safety features, and then asking the viewer to watch with droll impassivity as Ezra watches a YouTube video on how to make a noose with an extension cord.

“Imposters” walks a fine line between primetime soap and buddy comedy, with varying degrees of success. On one hand it’s the story of conwoman Maddie, who has taken on the names Ava, Alice, and CeCe in a cross-country marrying spree that generally follows the same modus operandi: Find the mark, be everything the mark is looking for, make the mark fall in love with you, and then take everything they have. It’s a ruthless business, and Maddie’s good at it because she looks like an extra in a Victoria’s Secret commercial: dark-haired, sultry-eyed, vaguely foreign. Her calculated sexuality carries with it a whiff of what made “The Girlfriend Experience” on Starz so horrifying and fascinating; the protagonist of both shows is conscious of how she is objectified by the male gaze, and manipulates it to her financial advantage. The difference is that while “Girlfriend Experience’s” Christine (Riley Keough) cops to being a sex worker, Maddie is playing a game that pretends at love, too. Watching her work adds a level of disgust to the paces of the romantic comedy — her meet-cutes are planned encounters; her vulnerable moments, unabashed performances.

But while she is creating a swath of lucrative destruction, attended to by her co-conspirators (Katherine LaNasa and Brian Benben), her exes, spurred on by heartbreak and revenge, end up stumbling into each other’s path. Ezra first finds Richard (Parker Young), a car salesman who knew Alice as a freak in bed who was grooming him for politics. Where Ezra is sensitive and romantic, falling for Ava because he was dreaming of moving to France, Richard is a bodybuilding jock who relied on Alice to round out his sense of masculinity. The two fall into an uneasy and pretty hilarious partnership. But before the buddy-cop routine gets boring, “Imposters” adds a twist: a third ex, Jules (Marianne Rendón), not an ex-husband but an ex-wife. To her, Maddie was CeCe, a dramatic, time-consuming firecracker. Rendón is a brilliant addition to the dynamic between Heaps and Young; as soon as she joins them, the trio makes for the most enjoyable and watchable element of “Imposters.”

Meanwhile, Maddie, working a new mark in Seattle, is starting to feel a little restless — going through the motions of seduction without any enthusiasm, and distracted by Patrick (Stephen Bishop), a handsome tech millionaire she might have genuine feelings for. As her con gets sloppy, her co-conspirators begin to lose patience with her. For some reason, that is when Uma Thurman shows up — as enforcer Lenny Cohen, whose job it is to make sure Maddie stays on track.

This is all to say that “Imposters” is essentially juggling with flaming batons, and it is rather entertaining to watch. The comedic elements almost make the drama seem hackneyed; the dramatic elements almost make the comedy seem desperate. Maddie’s shadowy employers make for an impossibly organized, infinitely resourceful cabal of wrongdoers; meanwhile, Ezra’s family, which gets a lot of screen time at the beginning, makes for a fond and intimate portrait of contemporary Jewish millionaires. “Imposters” is full of rich little embellishments — which are frequently more interesting and well-considered than the actual plot of the show.

Meanwhile, that same plot burns through so fast, it seems as if “Imposters” is determined to paint itself into a corner — after all, what could possibly happen when and if our trio of ex-spouses find Maddie and demand restitution? All three want her back, on some level; all three are also discovering that burying their troubles in another person’s adoration was not much of a way to build a life. While all that personal growth is happening, the audience is trying to discover whether or not Maddie is worth rooting for (and if that is even really her name) as she manages to worm her way into the affections of powerful men with batted eyelashes and girlish giggles that are so apparently effective, one weeps for the state of masculine sexuality.

But this core instability is one of the reasons “Imposters” is so fun to watch. It’s a shaggy, ridiculous, tonally inconsistent show, and in the first two episodes, its pacing leaves something to be desired. But it owns its own nuttiness, which allows the audience to adjust its expectations accordingly — and makes for a fun, unexpected journey. Thurman literally drives up in an American muscle car in the final scene of the third episode to rough up a random bar creep and then drive off into the metaphorical sunset; what’s not to enjoy about that? “Imposters” is having too much fun to answer any tougher questions.

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