A mirrored football (or soccer ball, as it's known in these parts) twirls like a disco ball in the opening credits; the women dress in Day-Glo bustiers held together with rubber bands, feathers, and rhinestones; and the bouncy dialogue includes odd gems like ''My baby was fake-tanned and you didn't think to mention it?'' The British soap Footballers Wive$, entering its fourth season on June 4, trumpets its over-the-topness. If you don't like saucy and silly think Marlena's demonic possession on Days of Our Lives then Wive$ isn't for you.
This season opens with team captain Conrad (Ben Price), a star of Beckhamian proportions, expecting to be a dad twice: Both his estranged wife Amber (Laila Rouass) and his adored, manipulative mistress Tanya (Zöe Lucker) are hugely pregnant, diamond-crusted, and jealous. Foul play is afoot, considering Tanya knows her child most likely isn't Conrad's, so she mysteriously schedules a cesarean as soon as Amber goes into labor (in a perfect example of detached motherhood, Tanya, looking bored, examines her nails as the baby is pulled from her belly).
There are plenty of misdeeds to go around this season, including a story line that jarringly parallels the current Duke lacrosse rape case: The football stars treat themselves to a posh golf weekend in Spain, complete with pretty, eager female caddies. During a night of partying, one of the girls after voluntarily bedding three of the players is raped. Unraveling which athlete did it provides a Desperate Housewives-style whodunit, both anguished and prettily shot. Team owner Hazel (Alison Newman), a glorious, tough redhead who plays Fagin to the band of misbehaving boys and their troublemaking wives, cuts through the suds: ''One day when you're no good at kicking balls anymore, I hope your own shrivel up with shame and drop off,'' she spits at the team that's more worried about making their plane than what happened at the villa. Weighing her options get wealthy or cut these idiots loose you can regularly feel Hazel humming Fagin's damned-if-I-do theme from Oliver!, ''I think I'd better think it out again.''
While Hazel provides a tart edge, Wive$ is funniest when it breaks itself down to a good English comedy of manners. The arrival of attentive hubby Bruno (Ben Richards) to fetch his spouse Lucy (Helen Latham) from a girls' cocktail night prompts a mini pissing contest (one of many) in which a wife promptly recalls a recent kindness her husband bestowed on her meanwhile, unbeknownst to the ladies, Bruno's burned all Lucy's dresses because she went out without his permission. As it turns out, a good (and rich and famous) man is hard to find.