TV Review: “The Astronaut Wives Club” – Unfocused

Written by Michelle Young September 22, 2015

the astronaut wives club

There’s something great to be said about the amount of new shows that prominently feature women in main roles, but at the same time, strong representation needs to involve more then just having their faces on the screen. Quality representation requires complexity, honesty, depth, and diversity. This was my biggest gripe with “The Astronaut Wives Club”: it really wasted such a great opportunity to get into the complex lives of these historical women and make a convincing, thoughtful feminist statement.

“The Astronaut Wives Club” details the untold stories of the women behind the Mercury Seven, the first American astronauts. The group consists of Betty Grissom (JoAnna Garcia Swisher) , Rene Carpenter (Yvonne Strahovski), Louise Shepard (Dominique McElligott), Trudy Cooper (Odette Annable), Marge Slayton (Erin Cummings), Annie Glenn (Azure Parsons), and Jo Schirra (Zoe Boyle). NASA used the Astro Wives to gain American approval of the newly formed space program. The women became national celebrities, but quickly learned that to survive the limelight, and the intense pressures of having astronauts husbands, they needed to stick together.

“Greetings Astro Wives.”

“The Astronaut Wives Club” is meant to show that these women were much more complex and human than the dominant historical narrative portrays them; they weren’t simply the doting “All American” housewives the media shaped them as. Unfortunately, the show really misses the mark. Many of the stories and characters fall heavily into tropes and stereotypes. The great irony of the show is that, in their attempt to tell a story that criticizes how these women were treated as fluff, they also treated them as fluff.

the astronaut wives club

The overall tone is largely to blame for this, as the stories were often too similar to a rom-com to really delve into any complexity. The gravity (no pun intended) of the situation would have really been better suited to a more serious, “Mad Men” type, tone. Another major misstep was also in how much they included the actual space race into the overall plot, because, for the most part, these plot points centered on the men. This also felt like a strange inclusion, because we already know what happens, it’s all based on historical events. If the aim of “The Astronaut Wives Club” was to reveal the hidden stories, why would they focus so heavily on the ones that were already told?

“Our husbands are the heroes. It wouldn’t be right to step into their lime light. Would it?”

It wasn’t just the story that led “The Astronaut Wives Club” astray; the structure of the writing was pretty mediocre. All the historical facts really bogged down the dialogue, which was essentially almost entirely exposition. Having the characters constantly explaining everything didn’t leave any room for us to get to know them on a personal level. It was more about the events going on around the characters than their actual humanity. There are only so many times that you can watch these women worriedly stare at a TV screen eating pasta salad before it starts to feel overdone. The pacing of the show was absolutely atrocious. Everything happens so damn fast (the ten episodes spans an entire decade) that it’s so hard to find your bearings. It also meant that a lot of subtly was abandoned. The pilot, for instance, spanned two years and largely glossed over the foundations of the wives relationships with one another. They meet one minute, than are at each other’s houses gossiping the next; what happens in the middle just gets taken for granted.

the astronaut wives club

The writing also affected the acting, which wasn’t completely terrible considering what they had to work with. The camaraderie and friendship between the women felt real and, for the most part, the cast was solid, but because of how big it was, there were a few duds that fell flat. The stand out for me was definitely JoAnna Garcia Swisher. She really came to bat when Betty’s husband was killed, portraying the character’s grief and frustration heartbreakingly well.

“This astronaut wife stuff toughens you up.”

The production of the show was one of the few things that I actually thought was decent. The costumes, makeup and decor were of the era and followed the lightning quick timeline. It really helped to keep track of what year the story was in. I did feel as though the music they chose was a bit scattered and unsuited. The other thing that bothered me was that they didn’t cast actors that were close to the right age, which got particularly silly when some of the twenty and thirty something actors were supposed to play parents to teenagers. I get that with such a large time frame it was probably tough, but it didn’t look like they tried to age them at all.

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I find it commendable that “The Astronaut Wives Club” set out to add more female voices to the television landscape – there were some feminist moments (as overt and overstressed as they were) -, but at the same time it needs to be done properly to have any great impact. Overall, the show lacked the focus to really do justice to these perspectives, exemplifying that meaningful representation requires a lot more than just showing up.

the astronaut wives club

My Rating: 5/10

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