After first gaining notice as the titular dummy-come-to-life in the 1987 film “Mannequin,” Kim Cattrall became famous for playing a caricature – man-eater-about-Manhattan Samantha, on HBO’s “Sex and the City.”
Later seasons of “Sex” developed Samantha enough – through story lines involving cancer and true love – to allow Cattrall to show range. But she never was given the same degree of arc to play as “Sex” co-stars Sarah Jessica Parker, Kristin Davis and Cynthia Nixon were.
This is partly why it is so satisfying to see Cattrall hit varied notes just within the first episode of the HBO Canada comedy “Sensitive Skin,” which has aired for two seasons up north and now is streaming on Netflix. Cattrall, who was born in England and raised in Canada, plays Davina, a model turned art gallery employee in her 50s who is questioning her career, longtime marriage and relationship to her son, who is now in his 20s and toxically caustic toward his parents.
Cattrall lends Davina a brisk intelligence and quick wit underpinned by warmth. Here, as always, Cattrall is easy on the eyes. But in “Skin,” there is more emphasis on “ease.” Davina’s base note is an inner calm that can withstand her son’s verbal volleys as well as the displays of neuroses by Davina’s hilarious but hypochondriacal husband, Al (a wonderful Don McKellar, who also directed every “Skin” episode).
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As the first season progresses, Davina’s warmth will become a wistfulness that turns into “Is that all there is?” baby-boomer ennui. The chic Toronto loft that empty-nesters Davina and Al purchased after selling their large suburban house did not fulfill Davina’s desire for change, as it turns out. And her art-gallery job, which once spoke to her creative side, sometimes leaves her cold.
Al, a newspaper columnist, is devoted to Davina, and Cattrall and McKellar share a believable, lived-in chemistry. But Al’s oddball qualities are increasing with age. He frequently consults a quack doctor (a wry Elliott Gould) who orders unnecessary tests to keep Al coming back to his office. Despite his snazzy, city-sophisticate designer coats and specs, Al is growing less sexy by the day. Davina, by contrast, gets hit on by nearly every man she meets.
“Sensitive Skin,” based on a 2005-07 British series, starring Joanna Lumley, presents a woman’s post-menopausal sex life as not just a given, but as a potential wonderland of possibilities. We know how Samantha would handle such a bounty. Davina’s response, and Cattrall’s portrayal of it, is more compelling.
Streaming on Netflix