THE SERIES "American Woman"
WHEN | WHERE Premieres Thursday at 10 p.m. on Paramount Network
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Bonnie Nolan (Alicia Silverstone) is a stay-at-home Beverly Hills wife and mom, circa 1975, with an unlimited expense allowance and a husband, Steve (James Tupper), who runs an apparently successful real estate firm. Along with best friends Diana (Jennifer Bartels) and Kathleen (Mena Suvari), these ladies "lunch," shop and gossip. But soon enough, Bonnie's life and status take a hit: Steve's a cheater, and after Bonnie tosses him out of the house, she needs to find a job — because he's also a crook. This 12-part series is roughly based on the "real-life upbringing" of Kyle Richards of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills," per Paramount. Richards is also a co-executive producer.
MY SAY Let's all hear it for the '70s! Or let's not! That decade of polyester, pet rocks and Pintos. That sorry spectacle of bad fashion, bad cars, bad hair. What were we thinking? (Were we?) From our enlightened 21st century perch, we almost wince when we look back. Did we really say that? Did we really wear that? Oh the pain, the pain.
Perhaps (admittedly) seduced by our smug self-satisfaction, we do tend to forget that the current decade has its own unique set of flaws. But then along comes "American Woman" to make us forget all about those and it's back to "smug self-satisfaction" again. That may be the chief appeal here — that and Silverstone, in her first lead role in a TV series, and her first regular series since "Miss Match" back in 2003. She has some charm here, her new series less so.
The brush strokes of "American Woman" are broad — broad enough to cover the entire screen and obliterate any subtleties or nuances of character, story and plot. When caddish, sexist, boorish '70s Husband Steve first walks in the door, you could almost write his lines yourself. You could certainly come up with something better than this: "It's no picnic out there in the real world," he growls. "I feel like you women have it pretty good. Why complain?"
Before long, Steve and his leisure suit will be going down in flames, but not before the obligatory dinner-with-client scene to remind viewers that he wasn't the only Neanderthal out there. During this dinner, in some tony L.A. eatery, Clueless Client Man — with Submissive Wife attending his every word — asks Steve, "What are your thoughts on Jerry Brown?"
Submissive Wife, with enthusiasm: "He's dating Linda Ronstadt!"
Clueless Client Man to Submissive Wife: "Linda Ronstadt has a great [posterior], but not as good as yours!"
Did people really talk like this back then? If so, then strikes three, four and five against the maligned '70s. If not, then "American Woman" has a problem, and in fact it does. It's written with a spatula, with words literally flung at the screen from a distance. That any fail to stick is hardly a surprise: The shock would be if any did. The result is a series that muddles along, without a perspective other than the obvious one (men are pigs), or a plot that expands much beyond suddenly-single-mom-gets-back-in-workplace.
And at least through the first three episodes — the only ones available for review — "American Woman" doesn't even bother to work in the obvious revenge angle with much conviction. Rather than go Thelma-and-Louise on the troglodyte men in their lives, Bonnie, Diana and Kathleen barely muster any rage. They simmer through indignities or are oblivious to them. Through these early episodes, they're '70s prototypes trapped in a would-be sendup of the '70s that badly needs a 2018 makeover.
BOTTOM LINE "American Woman's" timing may be the only thing right here. All else is wan, muddled, tired and bland.