American Woman episode 2 review: ‘Changes and the New Normal’


After a slow start, American Woman has started to warm up in its second episode.

In the premiere episode of American Woman, we met glamorous housewife Bonnie Nolan (Alicia Silverstone) and saw her attempts to deal with her husband’s infidelity, set amongst the pastel-colored dreamland of 1970s Beverly Hills.

Episode two shows Bonnie struggling to support her daughters and keep her house from being repossessed, as she discovers that as well as being a cheater, her husband is also involved in some shady pyramid schemes.

The episode opens on Bonnie looking gorgeous in a white satin nightgown – being the jilted wife sure does suit her – despondently getting ready to the sounds of Silver Threads and Golden Needles (the lyrics of which might be a little too on the nose, but it still makes for a great opening scene).

It’s a sharp contrast: Bonnie adorning herself with her flashiest, gaudiest jewelry, only to find out in the next shot that her husband’s dodgy business dealings have left them completely bankrupt.

But even the threat of giving up her hedonistic lifestyle isn’t enough for Bonnie to let Steve back into their family home, despite him showing up to her house uninvited and begging her to forgive him.

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“When we were together, you never had to worry about anything,” he cajoles.

“Maybe that was the problem,” she seethes back.

It’s probably Silverstone’s strongest scene in American Woman so far.

Mena Suvari’s bubbly blonde Kathleen is also having guy problems – her problem being that her boyfriend (an unrecognizable Cheyenne Jackson, in shaggy-haired, porn-mustached perfection) prefers the company of other men.

It turns out their ‘casting agency’ is nothing more than an excuse for him to perform love scenes with hot wannabe actors.

However, Kathleen doesn’t seem to notice and spends the episode offering to cover Bonnie’s mortgage payments or airily proclaiming that all Bonnie needs is a sugar daddy (“Her looks are her best asset”).

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This episode also gives us a closer look at Diana (Jennifer Bartels)’s work situation. As the only female working in a loans office, she asks her piggish boss for a promotion, only to be denied because unlike her competition, she doesn’t have a wife and family to support.

Although she manages to convince her boss to consider her for the role, using a “gentlemen’s agreement” and a handshake, it doesn’t look like she’ll be advancing further than making photocopies and checking for signatures on important documents.

It feels like a bit of a ham-fisted scene to portray the ‘working woman in a sexist office’ trope, but it does feel kind of sad to reflect on just how many women are in similar situations today. Have we really not evolved that much since the ’70s?

Well, at least it’s a lot less rare that women are advised to show off their legs when applying for a secretary position. That’s the advice Bonnie gets when she tries to apply with a resume that’s a little thin on any actual work experience.

“Twiggy is thin, this resume is non-existent,” the recruiter quips.

“You’re attractive, that’s definitely a quality men look for in an executive assistant,” she adds.

“Have you got nice legs under there? Don’t hide them, anything that can make you stand out in the secretarial pool is probably a bonus.”

Rather than rely on a short skirt and sleazy boss to get a job, Bonnie tells her youngest daughter she’s “going to get a great suit, do my hair, wear my highest heels and fake it!” And thus a disproportionate amount of time is dedicated to following Bonnie’s hunt for the perfect (Yves Saint Laurent, naturally) suit to wear to make her mark as a career woman.

And just like last week, it feels like an odd juxtaposition. The show feels like it jerks between a 1970s Sex and the City – fabulous clothes! Men! Cocktails! – and a serious examination of how women were treated in the time before second-wave feminism.

Next: Everything you need to know about ‘American Woman’

Now that Bonnie is set up with a new job at a department store, serving the bitchy housewives she used to associate with, hopefully, the show will finally focus on what it promised: showing strong, independent women who just happen to be living in the 1970s.