What you can't help but notice right away about the irresistible "Mistresses" is how much you care about the characters. Three of the four leads in this BBC America drama are, after all, cheaters, but likable nonetheless. A British chick show with more than enough sexy sophistication and eye candy to reel in the menfolk, "Mistresses" is "Desperate Housewives" minus the throwaway frivolity but with the tantalizing intrigue. It weaves a tangled web that isn't always so simple to unravel and tacks on moral issues without feeling gratuitous or overly manipulative. And the acting is uniformly first-rate.

Katie (Sarah Parish), Trudi (Sharon Small), Siobhan (Orla Brady) and Jessica (Shelley Conn) are best friends in their 30s and 40s — attractive, articulate and independent but struggling to make sense of complex, sometimes desperate personal lives.

Katie's a doctor who had a fling with a terminally ill (and married) patient since died and now must deal with the obsessive attentions of the guy's son. Trudi is a 9/11 widow whose husband's body never was found and has been unable to move on, complete with mysterious phone calls from what she suspects is beyond the grave. Siobhan's seemingly blissful world as a married lawyer begins to unravel when she and her husband are unable to conceive and a flirty colleague punctures her resistance. Finally, Jessica, the most gorgeous and gregarious of the bunch, is a commitment-phobe fooling around with a married guy who suddenly finds herself developing a certain lesbian consciousness.

While the "Mistresses" vibe is undeniably juicy and titillating, it's far more than "Sex and the City" transplanted to London. There's a thriller aspect that dovetails nicely with the sassier elements, but the show never devolves into wanton erotica. And all I know is through each of the first four screened episodes, I couldn't wait to get to the next installment. Who knew that infidelity could be so compelling? Oh wait, that's right: darn near everybody. (partialdiff)

Bottom Line: A slick and stylish look at fooling around, English-style.

Airdate: 8-9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 20 (BBC America).

Production: Ecosse Films and BBC America for the BBC.

Cast: Sarah Parish, Sharon Small, Orla Brady, Shelley Conn, Raze Jeffrey, Adam Rayner, Patrick Baladi, Adam Astill, Anna Torv, Alice Thomas, Anthony Calf, Chris Garner, Max Brown, Victoria Wicks, Charles Edwards.

Executive producers: Douglas Rae, Matt Arlidge, Lucy Bedford.

Creators: Lowri Glain, SJ Clarkson.

Co-creator: Rachel Anthony.

Producer: Lowri Glain.

Writers: Rachel Anthony, Richard Warlow, Harriet Braun, Catrin Clarke.

Directors: SJ Clarkson, Philip John, Peter Hoar.