In the hour that finds one ’60s housewife discovering her husband is having an affair, one modern open marriage teetering on becoming a ménage a trois, and one woman finding out in the middle of a glitzy ’80s soiree that her husband is gay, perhaps the most memorable moment of Why Women Kill’s first episode is a fleeting one. At that fabulous ’80s party, where eyes are practically being gouged out by excess and shoulder pads, it’s Katie Finneran’s Naomi, dear friend of Lucy Liu’s soon-to-be-reeling Simone, who takes the over-the-top campiness and fabulous femininity that is show creator Marc Cherry’s stock in trade and encapsulates it in one gesture.
She eats a cheeseball.
Actually, she devours a cheeseball, with gusto. It’s a quintessentially Finneran moment, one that is rooted in organic character work but also operating on multiple levels. Having just told Simone that a mutual friend doesn’t like her, she takes the cheeseball she’s been wagging like a finger in Simone’s face and, the other hand still holding a tray of them, puts it in her mouth, leaving it slightly protuberant as she slides the toothpick out. The movement is less exclamation point and more slow slide whistle, giving a topspin to the moment that makes it weirder and more memorable than just another bitchy woman who’s traded chardonnay for hors d’oeuvres. Or another actor doing prop work.
“I can’t believe they used it,” Finneran says with a laugh over the phone. “I’m just trying to make Lucy laugh!”
There shouldn’t be any doubt that she succeeds, as fans well know. A two-time Tony winner for Noises Off and Promises, Promises, Finneran’s comedy is singular and immediately identifiable, a perfect match for Cherry’s style. And, as it turns out, Finneran is also a match for the 1980s style.
“I looked in the mirror and I thought, ‘There’s no reason this is as flattering as it is on me!’” Finneran says. “I look so good in these ’80s clothes with these huge shoulder pads and the waists are tiny and the colors and the shiny fabric and the hair and the makeup…. I hate to say it but this suits me, this really suits me!”
A splash of bold, unapologetic color in a gray season of television, the CBS All Access series finds Finneran part of a sprawling ensemble for three different storylines about women betrayed by men—and women betrayed by women, too. After all, it’s Naomi’s 18-year-old son with whom Simone finds solace after the revelations about her marriage.
“I may or may not get lethally livid with her,” Finneran teases. “It’s just a delicious time spent with three great women. Marc Cherry, I just get his language and he’s so fun to work with. We had a great time together. And Lucy Liu wants to see everyone else succeed and triumph and she’s just the most loving person.”
As for who the victims and killers will be by the time Season 1 ends? Finneran says even the cast was surprised.
“None of us knew what was going to happen, so we were all guessing,” she says. “And it wasn’t what we thought, so it will definitely be a surprise to the audience!”
Why Women Kill airs on CBS All Access Thursdays.