August 21, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Finale Review: “The Astronaut Wives Club”


THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB never achieved much in the way of lift-off, and although ABC knew it was coming–there was a reason it was pushed to a summer run as the lead-in to Mistresses–the show’s flat quality must have initially taken the network by surprise.  On paper, the show seemed like it was exactly the kind of “event” programming broadcasters are looking for these days, especially a female-skewing network like ABC.  The concept was simple enough:  present the flip side of The Right Stuff, following the wives of (primarily) the Mercury astronauts from the beginning of the space program through Apollo, with a cast strong in talented young actresses (Yvonne Strahovski as Rene Carpenter, Odette Annable as Trudy Cooper, Dominique McElligott as Louise Shepard, JoAnna Garcia Swisher as Betty Grissom), and some Mad Men-ish production/costume design and social history along the way.  The show was created by Stephanie Savage, a longtime associate of producer Josh Schwartz, of Gossip Girl and The OC fame, hailing from his production company, and An Education director Lone Scherfig guided the pilot.

Tonight’s finale, written by Story Editor Derek Simonds, from a story by Consulting Producer Lisa Zwerling, and directed by Jon Amiel, provided a distillation of how all of this had gone wrong despite everyone’s best intentions.  In less than 45 minutes, the episode carried its 7 main characters and their spouses through Apollos 11 and 13 and all the time and interpersonal crises in between, leaving everything rushed and incomplete.  The Apollo 13 story alone, itself the subject of a lengthy feature film, was shrunken down to about 8 minutes of airtime, with poor Marilyn Lovell reduced to sitting on a couch with the other wives and repeatedly exclaiming “I don’t understand,” so one of the regular character wives could heave exposition at her (and us) about what was going on in the capsule.

With so much territory to cover in its 10 episodes, from assassinations to fashion statements, from incipient feminism to intra-NASA conflicts, no subject could receive more than a bare summary, and the script was filled with baldly unsubtle girl power dialogue like “We’re all different people now.  We changed, and we changed each other.  And there’s no going back,” which prompted the even more cringe-inducing response, “You promise?”  and a hug.  Even the women who seemed to have genuinely interesting lives, like Carpenter, Cooper and Annie Glenn (Azure Parsons), came off as simplistic, and the men were even more sketchily drawn.

True-life historical dramas are difficult to pull off–even Masters of Sex, after an exemplary first season, has been flailing for the past 2, and that has a much more confined subject and set of characters.  Especially when depicting a decade as dotted with historical touchstones as the 60s, it’s all too easy to structure a script as a hopscotch from one famous event and reference to the next, and Astronaut Wives Club fell into that trap.

Astronaut Wives Club didn’t work, but there was quality on view nevertheless.  The acting was very fine, especially from Strahovski, Annable and Parsons, and the designers did an admirable job surveying a decade’s worth of costumes, hairstyles and art decoration.  The show aimed at a higher target than the dumb genre dramas that otherwise filled the networks’ scripted line-ups this summer.  Orbit, however, was not achieved.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."