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Review: The Astronaut Wives Club 1x1 (US: ABC)

Posted on June 25, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

The Astronaut Wives Club

In the US: Thursdays, 8/7c, ABC

History is, of course, usually just that – ‘his story’. ‘Her story’ – women’s stories – tend to get overlooked.

Thankfully, great efforts are being made to redress the balance, to tell the forgotten stories of women throughout the world and throughout the centuries, to show what contributions they’ve made to society.

Unfortunately, much as it would probably like to be, The Astronaut Wives Club isn’t one of those efforts. The series is set during the early 1960s, when 'women’s liberation’ was just beginning and the US and the USSR were racing each other to be the first to put a living creature then a man then a woman in space, before finally they both aimed for the ultimate prize of putting a man on the moon.

The US efforts began in earnest with the Mercury Seven, a group of seven astronauts who would fly the Mercury spacecraft into orbit, but only one of whom would be the first American into space. Each of these men was married and as an act of anti-Soviet propaganda and to get the American people on board with the 'space race’, efforts were made to make these wives a form of American royalty, right down to a Time magazine journalist reporting on their every move – provided he only showed them and their husbands in a good, all-American light, of course.

Needless to say, beneath the surfaces of these supposedly happy, ordinary American wives, their happy, extraordinary American husbands and their marriages, a lot was going on, including infidelity and divorce, all of which these women and Time had to hide from sight.

Now, without these women doing what they did, these men might never have been able to have been astronauts – or at least be astronauts and have a family, normal home-life, etc. And many were accomplished in their own rights. So it’s good that their stories are told.

And they have been – in Lily Koppel’s book, The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story. And to be honest, that’s where they should have been left, because a 10-part event television series they do not make – or if they do, the wrong people are telling them.

The Astronaut Wives Club is dull. Dull, dull, dull, dull, dull. It shouldn’t be. But it is. It’s got a great cast: Yvonne Strahovski (Chuck, 24, Dexter), Odette Annable (House, Banshee, Breaking In, Rush), Erin Cummings (Spartacus, Detroit 1-8-7), Joanna Garcia (Privileged, Better With You, Animal Practice), Desmond Harrington (Dexter), Evan Handler (Sex and the City, Californication), Bret Harrison (The Loop, Reaper) and more. It’s got space rockets, some of which explode. It’s got pool parties and heaps of 60s style. It also has real, well known events to recreate, such as famous Time magazine photos.

Time's Astronaut Wives Club

The recreated cover

But it’s dull. Dull, dull, dull, dull, dull.

The problem is that much of the first episode isn’t really about the women. It’s about women with women, which it explores in entirely standard and dull, dull, dull, dull, dull ways. So on the one hand, the wives are all competitive and want their husband to be the first man in space. But since all they can do is compete verbally and can’t actually do anything to help their husband to be the first man in space, they simply snipe at one another and pick holes in each other’s accomplishments (“An unmarried woman travelling abroad. That must have been… an adventure”).

Then they realise that they each have secrets that could be revealed and that anything bad looks bad for their husbands, so they club together for solidarity, making cakes and so on. Annable’s Trudy Cooper is getting divorced and hates cheating men so she ends up manipulating events so that Dominique McElligott’s Louise Shepard can spot Alan Shepard cheating.

Except there’s also the fact they’re getting so much fame and celebrity that perhaps if they bent the rules, they might be the one who ends up a bit more famous than the rest, which is what Strahovski ends up doing, such as when she wears a dress that isn’t pastel-coloured in the photo above. Except maybe she’ll need the help of the others later on…

And so on. And I’m sure there’ll be more of that ‘women helping each other through adversity’ later, too, as well known historical tragedies will take place in future episodes.

But you’d be hard pressed to know what any of the women were actually like, what their own accomplishments were and so on, beyond the occasional throw-away line. In fact, you’ll end up knowing a whole lot more about all the members of the Mercury Seven than you did before, which is almost exactly the opposite of what The Astronaut Wives Club was trying to do.

So like ABC’s other 60s period piece, Pan-Am, before it, The Astronaut Wives Club is a pretty little bauble of a piece, full of decent actors and actresses and lovely attention to period detail, but with a plot that’ll send you to sleep despite all the excitement of its setting. Avoid.

Incidentally, it’s interesting don’t you think that despite supposedly being the most female-friendly of all the networks, ABC’s current Thursday night offering is this, followed by Mistresses. Not really demonstrating the full gamut of women’s experiences independent of men, is it?

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Review: Dark Matter 1x1 (Canada: Space; US: Syfy; UK: Syfy)

Posted on June 15, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Dark Matter

In Canada: Fridays, 10e/7p, Space
In the US: Fridays, 10/9c, Syfy
In the UK: Mondays, 8pm, Syfy. Starts tonight  

They say there are no original ideas any more and that everything has already been done before - it’s just a question of how you take elements of what’s gone before to create a new mixture.

If this statement is true, it’s doubly true of science-fiction, where for any given show, it’s almost certainly possible to name a very similar if not identical predecessor. A case in point is the new Canadian-US co-production Dark Matter.

Adapted from their own comic by the brains behind the TV version of Stargate, Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie, the show is roughly 90% Blakes 7 for starters - a group of six misfits, four men, two women, wind up on board an advanced spaceship. There they meet the seventh member of the crew, the ship’s artificial intelligence, and come together to fight oppression from a huge federation.

The remaining 10% of the show is pure Andromeda, with the ship’s artificial intelligence having a robotic avatar and the crew having turned good relatively recently, originally being a bunch of criminals until they had their memories taken away. And then there’s the slightly enigmatic woman with funny coloured hair who’s on board the ship but wasn’t one of the criminals and who has strange powers.

So far, so derivative. There’s even a little sprinkling of Firefly on top. The question is - does Dark Matter stick all these components together to create something decent?

The short answer is: not really, but at least it’s fun.

Continue reading "Review: Dark Matter 1x1 (Canada: Space; US: Syfy; UK: Syfy) "

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The Pretty in Pink reunion you weren't expecting on The Blacklist

Posted on March 4, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

First, an introduction for younger readers. This is the group of actor/singers known as the Rat Pack. They were big in the 60s. You weren’t alive then. Neither was I.

The Rat Pack

I don’t quite know why I’m mentioning them since they’re irrelevant to this piece. However, this is the far more relevant Brat Pack. They were big in the 80s. You might have been alive then. I definitely was.

The Brat Pack

To be exact, that’s not quite the Brat Pack, so much as the cast of St Elmo’s Fire, most of whom were in the Brat Pack - look closely and you’ll spot Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Andrew McCarthy, Ally Sheedy and Demi Moore (as well as the lesser known Judd Nelson and even lesser known Mare Winningham).

However, the Brat Pack was made up of a group of young actors and actresses who dated each other and/or frequently appeared together in movies (eg The Breakfast Club, Oxford Blues, Sixteen Candles) and their numbers also included the likes of Kiefer Sutherland, Robert Downey Jr, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall and James Spader.

One of the most notable and iconic Brat Pack movies was Pretty In Pink, which starred Ringwald, McCarthy and Spader, as well as Jon Cryer who would go on to star in Two And A Half Men with the somewhat infamous Brat Pack member Charlie Sheen. Here's a trailer to explain the basic plot, which involves Ringwald picking the right boy - and the right dress - for her prom: should it be good guy Andrew McCarthy, bad guy James Spader or unnoticed best friend Cryer?

Here are Spader and McCarthy being interviewed about the movie at the time. My, how young they look, don't they?

But as we've seen, careers can go in odd directions. I really don't need to tell you what Robert Downey Jr has been up to since, while Rob Lowe - who was the baddest of the bad in the Brat Pack - has also gone on to numerous decent roles in things like The West Wing and Parks and Recreation, and Kiefer Sutherland became the TV star of the 2000s as Jack Bauer in 24 and Demi Moore became an action movie star. Others have branched off into different parts of the industry - Emilio Estevez won a standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival for his biopic of Robert Kennedy, Bobby, which he wrote and directed.

Spader, by contrast, has gone through a slow process of 'Shatnerisation', slowly going from the acclaimed movie performances of Sex, Lies and Videotape and Crash down into a hammy TV hell of his own making, perhaps in part caused by his proximity to the Shat himself in Boston Legal.

Meanwhile, Andrew McCarthy after sticking around in acting doing the serious likes of John Frankenheimer's Year of the Gun with Sharon Stone…

…ended up mainly behind the camera, the difference being that he's stuck to directing TV, on shows such as Gossip Girl, Alpha House, Orange is the New Black, The Carrie Diaries, and Lipstick Jungle.

Oh, and The Blacklist, which stars James Spader, and for which McCarthy has directed three episodes this season.

"They're both great artists who have had such a wonderful working relationship in the past, it just seemed like too good of an opportunity to pass up," series executive producers Jon Bokenkamp and John Eisendrath said [via].

Look, here they are together behind the scenes. My, don't they look not quite so young? But then, don't we all?

James Spadaer and Andrew McCarthy behind the scenes of The Blacklist

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