Here is my main takeaway from episode one of ABC's The Astronaut Wives Club, a gauzy period drama based on the book of the same name: It was good to be an astronaut's wife in the '60s. And also, it was bad to be an astronaut's wife in the '60s.
The premiere is wholly devoted to setting up that dichotomy. You'll burst with pride over being married to an instant icon, but you'll worry endlessly that he'll blow up leaving the stratosphere. You'll get to go to swanky parties, but you'll have to talk to other women that you (for some reason) immediately regard as your competition. Life magazine will follow you and take your picture and encourage America to fawn over you, but down at Cape Canaveral, your husbands are partying with girls in bikinis gone starry-eyed over spacemen.
It's a fascinating place to start a show, but it should feel more fascinating than it actually does, probably because Club's ensemble is just too big. Seven "main" characters is a lot to keep track of, and this is coming from someone who's reading Judy Blume's new 20-something-narrators book. Having so many wives competing for screen time means that each of them is forced to wear her defining quality (the hot one! the ambitious one! the cold one!) like a nametag so that we can see who we're dealing with. So the dynamic unfolds with all the subtlety of a rocket launch.
The other challenge, in terms of watching these women as a woman in 2015, is figuring out which of their attitudes are actually emblematic of the times, and which are just counting on the housedress era to justify them. Certainly, the across-the-board obedience (not love, in every case, but obedience for sure) of their husbands feels right out of a retro handbook. But I'm not sure that the instant suspicion the women all feel towards each other can be explained away by the era. (Their first meeting as a group devolves into a snapping match within two minutes—and, depressingly, it's over whose husband is best.) Nor does the time period excuse the self-absorption this group uniformly suffers from. We're better than halfway through the pilot when they realize one of them hasn't spoken a single word because she stutters. The talent—JoAnna Garcia Swisher, Odette Annable, Zoe Boyle, Erin Cummings, Yvonne Strahovski, Azure Parsons and Dominique McElligott—are all likable, but their alter-egos have some catching up to do.
Of course, all of this is a great place to start if everyone is about to change, and seeing as Club comes from Gossip Girl's Stephanie Savage, I plan on sticking around to see the stories take off. Even if these women spend all of season one being forced into good-homemaking-lady public behavior, I expect a little gumption and adventure behind closed doors. Your men are headed to the moon, ladies. Don't just sit and wait up for them.
Spacemen aren't the only things hidden in the stars:
Photos: Courtesy of ABC
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