American Woman is light on the substance, heavy on the style


While it has the best intentions, unfortunately, American Woman misses the mark when it comes to making any real statement about feminism.

Bonnie Nolan (Alicia Silverstone) is a glamorous housewife in 1970s Beverly Hills in American Woman. We’re introduced to Bonnie when she attempts to buy a watch for her husband’s birthday, but she isn’t allowed to make the purchase without putting it on his account and ruining the surprise.

Her retaliation of threatening to take her (or rather, her husband’s) business to another store doesn’t exactly scream girl power to me, but it does serve to prove a point to the snooty jewelry salesman and, I suppose, give us an idea of Bonnie’s quick wit and problem-solving abilities.

Bonnie’s idyllic existence collapses after she catches Steve (James Tupper) cheating on her with a younger woman. Ah, Steve, so conveniently filling in the boorish male stereotype, with lines like “It’s no picnic out there in the real world, I think you women have it pretty good,” and the equally painful “This isn’t a marriage, it’s a democracy!”.

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While you feel like you should be rooting for Bonnie, she doesn’t come across as all that likable (although Silverstone is as charming as she was in her Clueless days).

She drives maniacally – her two daughters in tow – in order to catch Steve at a sleazy motel with his lover, and when he’s followed home by a creepy guy in a Cadillac, she threatens to smash his face in with a tire iron.

Later in the episode, she tells her daughters that “A liar is the worst thing you can be… a stripper’s also bad.”

It’s a line that seems like it’s meant to be funny, but doesn’t elicit any laughs – and in a dramedy that’s pretty light on the “comedy” part, it’s one of a few noticeably clunky lines.

After a shrill, cocktail-fuelled confrontation, Bonnie manages to pull it together enough to go through with her husband’s lavish birthday party (sans husband) amidst kicking him out of their house, firing the hired help and finding a good divorce lawyer.

However, all her efforts to remain in her sprawling Beverly Hills mansion looks to be for nothing when a cop turns up at her door with a warrant for Steve’s arrest.

While her story is off to a pretty trite beginning, it looks like the storylines of Bonnie’s friends will be worth watching.

Kathleen (Mena Suvari) is a flighty Texan who manages to turn every conversation back to the weight that she’s trying to lose. She’s a trust fund baby whose latest project is financing her closeted gay boyfriend’s casting agency.

Diana (Jennifer Bartels)’s story could be the most interesting; she’s a woman working in the finance industry. It’s hard enough for a woman to flourish in a male-dominated field in 2018; how will Diana fare in the ’70s? Diana seems the most relatable character, a kind of Lily Tomlin-esque, sarcastic best friend always ready with a quip and a cigarette.

But will the B plotlines be enough to make American Woman worth watching?

The problem with American Woman is that it just doesn’t quite fit into any of the categories it’s trying so hard to fit. It’s not funny enough to be a sitcom; there aren’t enough big emotional punches for it to be a drama. You can’t deny that it has some groovy fashion and great attention to detail, but as a period piece, it’s just not on the same level as Mad Men or The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

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Hopefully, the show will give us some meatier plotlines after laying the foundation in the first episode. If nothing else, it is a gorgeous ’70s treat for the eyes – but for a show that has marketed itself as one with substance as well as style, it’s not going to be able to coast by on its aesthetics for the rest of the season.