The day “Mad Men” ended was a sad, sad day in the television world. But at the same time, the show’s writers wrapped everything up well — leaving us with tears in our eyes, maybe, but ultimately leaving us with a laugh and the knowledge that the show got the attention and the ending it deserved. We felt at peace.
“Astronaut Wives Club”
And then, a couple of days later, we started twitching from the “Mad Men” withdrawal.
ABC jumped at the chance to fill that void in our hearts with “Astronaut Wives Club,” their shiny new period drama. Despite being based off of a true story — that of the astronauts of the Mercury Project during the Cold War era — almost everything about “Launch” falls flat.
In the first scene, we are introduced to seven women and their husbands at a party in a dizzying five minutes. There is a lot of dancing, a lot of polite yet barbed small talk and a lot of judgmental looks shooting from this wife to that one to that one’s husband. Watching these women check out the competition — not for themselves, but for their husbands, one of whom will be the first man launched into orbit — is uncomfortable. Watching them shoot thinly veiled jibes at each other after being introduced is painful.
The women go down to Florida to surprise their husbands, who are working hard — getting drunk, swimming in pools, trying to impress other young women, etc. A few of these fun-loving husbands are less than happy to see their wives.
After they all find out who will be the first man to go to space, his wife rejects the home-cooked dishes prepared by the other women as a gesture of wifely solidarity.
Later, she graciously accepts the food and emotional support, and the episode ends with a cute, heartwarming scene of all of the women dancing together in celebration — and anticipation for what the following months will bring.
This show could’ve be titled The Real Housewives of the 1960’s for the amount of depth it holds so far. The treatment of women isn’t as nuanced as in “Mad Men,” to which it will absolutely be compared. It lacks the subtle wry humor that “Mad Men” had, instead touching only briefly on the most superficial levels of sexist attitudes of the time — if there are jokes, the jokes are lost.
Like the film “The Help,” the show is so self-indulgently beautiful — scenes in soft golden sunlight, flattering camera angles, painstakingly perfect hair and makeup, and cherubic children — that you almost forget it is attempting to portray a real story. However, the actors do the best with what they’ve been given, and many of the women show promise; if the following episodes slow down, flesh out the storylines of each couple and give each of the wives time and space to take a deep breath, we will see something more than just perfunctory performances.
“Mad Men” proved that people can be captivated by shows that shine a spotlight on specific times in our history; “The Astronaut Wives Club” has a long way to go before it can reach the kind of love lavished on Don Draper and Peggy Olson. The historical detail found in the clothing and scenery is amazing; if the writing catches up, the acting will too. And then maybe — maybe — it will give “Mad Men” a run for its money. Not likely, though.