Three episodes were provided for reviewing purposes prior to broadcast.
Set in the late 50’s and early 60’s, ABC’s newest drama, The Astronaut Wives Club, focuses on the hubbub whirling around seven newly minted astronauts and their race to space against the similarly eager Russians. Except, it’s not. It’s actually about the seven wives of those astronauts, and the intense media scrutiny they and their families face once their husbands begin rocketing off into the cosmos one-by-one like bullets being loaded into a barrel.
It’s a cool idea, and the real-life events of the novel that the show is based off certainly lends the opening hours some weight, but as an episodic dramatic series it’s surprisingly inert. The seven women compromising the cast are all introduced so quickly that there’s nary a moment to stop and breathe and begin to differentiate one pair of cat-eyes from the next. Coupled with a few meandering scripts and some hamfisted dialogue, and The Astronaut Wives Club is less Mad Men and more The Playboy Club, tackling its period setting with gusto but forgetting to back up all the glitz with anything resembling meaningful character or plot.
The show’s main “wife” is Louise Shepard (Dominique McElligott), whose husband Alan Shepard (Desmond Harrington) becomes the second person ever to travel to space. Louise quickly falls in line with a catty bunch of six women, all wives to the next lucky gents waiting to launch in the rocket and attempt to make an orbit around Earth. Soon the women fall under the watchful eye of a journalist from Life magazine, who secretly has orders to plaster the wives onto every magazine cover in existence to put a positive spin on the somewhat questionable means the government is taking to ensure its place in the Space Race.
There are two intriguing stories going on here in The Astronaut Wives Club, that of the scrambling drama two countries faced in fighting tooth-and-nail to achieve victory over one another, and the other focusing on the psychological rigmarole plaguing the families affected by these events. The show does neither justice. Many popular pieces of fiction have focused on the smaller, personal effects of a big event, but this show isn’t that and it constantly feels shortchanged for not giving the “big event” in question here more screen time. I get that this is an adaptation of a novel and its purpose is to focus on those in the periphery – or in orbit, should I say – of a big event, but it nevertheless feels lost in orbit itself.