There’s a big question mark hovering over “The Astronaut Wives Club”: Who is its target audience?
Is it fans of “Mad Men,” still yearning for a ‘60s fix? Is it “The Right Stuff” junkies, who want more of the space story? Or is it “Bachelorette” lovers, wondering what relationships used to be?
After one episode, it’s hard to tell, particularly since the miniseries introduces so many characters in such a short period of time. The “astronaut wives” are the seven women who stood by the first men in space. While their husbands were soldiers in the space war with Russia, they were waging their own public relations battle, designed to sell the country on a relatively untried program.
By putting a domestic face on the situation, officials figured Americans would get behind NASA and support the men in the skies. Agreeing to appear in Life magazine, they became more than the dutiful women back home. They were Americans’ link – at least on paper.
In the series, they’re frequently a catty bunch who seem just as competitive as their husbands. Annie Glenn (Azure Parsons) tries to hide a stuttering problem; Louise Shepard (Dominique McElligott) has to deal with a wandering spouse; Rene Carpenter (Yvonne Strahovski) struggles with fitting in.
The cast goes deeper than that, but in the first episode it’s difficult to match Grissoms, Coopers, Slaytons and Schirras.
Director Lone Scherfig gives the series a glossy, almost “Pan Am” look, glorifying the era in a way most wouldn’t remember. The women are constantly coiffed for attention; the situations are always designed for drama.
Indeed, when Alan Shepard goes into space, the six women rally to her side. Clinging casseroles on her doorstep, they’re met with indifference. “The last thing I need in my house is six giddy women and their deviled eggs,” Louise Shepard says. That gives her an instant identity and helps viewers divide and conquer.
JoAnna Garcia Swisher gets the most attention as Betty Grissom (why, we’re not sure), but Strahovski steals every scene she’s in just by standing out. A brassy blonde in designer dresses, she announces herself immediately and becomes the go-to in just about every scene.
Parsons gets attention, too, but that could be because she’s not into playing the same game. “Astronaut Wives” moves as fast as a beach novel, covers more territory than a history book. But it’s history channeled through a distinct lens.
The first episode was slow to launch, but the series could take off once we figure out who’s McSteamy and who’s McDreamy.
“The Astronaut Wives Club” airs at 7 p.m. Thursdays on ABC.