Tuesday, May 26, 2015

REVIEW: 'THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB'

The show about the wives of the biggest heroes of their times in America details the friendships that were tested but true on various levels


“Based on the book by Lily Koppel, this 10 episode series tells the story of the women who were key players behind some of the biggest events in American history. As America's astronauts were launched on death-defying missions, Life magazine documented the astronauts' families, capturing the behind-the-scenes lives of their young wives. Overnight, these women were transformed from military spouses into American royalty. As their celebrity rose and tragedy began to touch their lives, they rallied together.” 

ABC’s overview of what the series is about captures what’s on the surface of the series. As the beginning of the series takes us into the space race of the 1960s, we soon discover that there was a lot at stake for the nations that wanted to take the first step towards exploring what was truly out of the world.

As Life magazine begins to chronicle the events of the missions to space, the approach they take is to focus on the wives of the elite group of seven astronauts who are selected to make their way out in successive trips. While Russia beat America to it by sending the first man to space—Yuri Gagarin—America’s aggressive approach to orbit the Earth, to make more significant advancements in the field, soon puts a lot of pressure on the astronauts and their wives. The series captures all of the above quite perfectly. It’s a time when public opinion and support is paramount, as making favorable appearances puts a lot of pressure on the wives, who aren’t always prepared for it. As the stories of the wives shed light on the conflicts they face, coping with the anxiety, yet trying to live up to the pressure of painting a positive picture of hope.

Expectations of being the perfect partners aren’t always easy to fulfil, as we begin to discover the intricacies of the marriages of these new celebrities in America. Details about their pasts are woven into the plot with the appropriate subtlety, as the series unravels characters for us to see as complete human beings, with their dreams and ambitions as well as fears and insecurities.

THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB does justice to almost every character in what is quite a large cast, in a short span of time. The story is paced well, and still manages to effectively capture the endearing and lighter moments between the friends, showing the significance of their bonds, which really is what’s at the heart of the series. As these women try to stick together and be there for each other, knowing that only they can truly understand each other, the men try and do the same, as they anticipate when their turns will come and how they will fare.


A show full of lovely portrayals of relationships, THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB it set against a backdrop of ’60s. It was a socio-economic time that was not only about advancements such as man taking a step outside the atmosphere, but also a time that was seeing a tremendous amount of change. While the race divide was still far more prominent than it is today, women were growing to realize that they could have a voice if they wanted to, and they could also dream big like their husbands did. And THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB shows us how its characters navigate these tricky waters quite well. I look forward to seeing more of this promising series, an offering that’s rather different from most of what we have on TV these days. 

The cover of Lily Koppel's book features a Life magazine photo, the shoot of which is is seen in the pilot of THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

‘MAD MEN’ SERIES FINALE: THE END OF AN ERA

Don Draper created the Coke ad, revealed Matthew Weiner, the creator of MAD MEN, after Sunday’s series finale, which ended with slight ambiguity and a few happy endings. The finale was mostly a satisfactory end to an iconic and absolutely unique series, but it still left me a little dissatisfied



One of the most heartbreaking moments on MAD MEN’s series finale was the final conversation between Don and Betty, after he finds out that she’s dying. What was more heartbreaking than that was that Don didn’t insist on going back to be with her, and that he didn’t insist on being a father to their children, the way he should have. I don’t say this because it would be the right thing for a guy to do, but simply because I wanted to see that growth in Don, which would have leant meaning to his journey and to the depth in the character.

I always imagined that MAD MEN would end with Don going away from everything, in acceptance of being the loner that he was. It was something that we’ve been seeing since the beginning of the seventh season, last year, with Megan’s move to LA and Don trying to hold on to something that was already long gone. We saw it at the beginning of the final seven episodes as well. He was basically living alone and detached from everything. He was searching for what he wanted from life beyond all the accomplishments, trying to hold onto something that wasn’t meant to be his—in the form of Diana. I saw it as him trying to attach himself, not being able to accept the detachment that was meant for him. Yet, he couldn’t detach himself from his children. He spent time with Bobby and Gene, making them milkshakes and all. He took Sally and her friends out to dinner, and found it necessary to impart some wisdom to her, encouraging her to be more than she might be. His children seemed to matter to him more than his career, or any woman ever had. He even considered it important enough for them to know about his past, his real name and everything. And I thought that that would ultimately be the fate of Don Draper—accepting his loneliness but still not turning his back on his children.


Moreover, I thought that his niece being ashamed of having turned her back on her child would become a strong reason for him to do the opposite of it. When he spoke to Peggy on the phone, he even talked about how scandalizing his daughter was one of his regrets, among the other things that he’d done to make a mess of his life. That conversation, I thought, would drive him to returning. We know that he eventually did return, because we know that the Coke hilltop commercial was his creation back at McCann-Erickson. Maybe he did go and be there for his children as well, but from how he accepted what Betty had told him about wanting things to remain ‘normal’, it’s quite clear that he didn’t. I don’t think that even the ambiguity of the ending—before or after Matt Weiner clarified that Don did create that ad—leaves his future with his children open to our imagination or interpretation. I didn’t necessarily need to see him with his kids or with Betty, but I would’ve liked it to have been a possibility.

What I did need to see, however, was more of Don with Peggy and with Roger, towards the end of the series. Unfortunately, there was very little for us to see of the most amazing relationship of the show—Don and Peggy’s, as friends, and as mentor and protégé. The beautiful moment that they had last year—the one where they dance in the office—could just as well have been the end of what we saw of them together, and that’s quite disappointing. With Roger, the sweet moment when he tells Don he’s with Megan’s mother, was all there was left for us to have seen them as friends. That the series finale didn’t give us even a phone conversation between them was really, really unfortunate.

And that’s the thing. While I agree that Don going away to find Diana, or find himself, or search for what else there was for him, was all important for his character, and for the story, but there was way too much time spent on that. His time with people away from home—the veterans, the housekeeping guy at the motel, the auto-mechanic guys, his hook-up, who tried to steal from him—could have been condensed considerably. Instead, we should have got more of Betty, Joan, Peggy, Pete and Roger, with or without Don.


Roger Sterling
Finally, the most satisfying endings of the series were Joan’s and Roger’s, for me. Roger was finally happy with someone, who was his equal—someone closer to the kind of person he was than his last two wives were, and someone who could stand up to him and have an impact on him in ways that he allows no one to. Yes, a part of me was hoping that when he went to see Joan about their boy inheriting from him, it meant that he and Joan would finally realize that it was time to cut out all the nonsense and just be together. But it was good that that didn’t happen, because the way that it actually ended for both of them was pretty much perfect.



Joan Holloway-Harris and Richard were nice together, but right from the start, he wanted her to be something she wasn’t. He wanted her to be a person who would only have him as a priority and would embrace an early retirement, a life of comfort and no personal ambition. And Joan would not be any of those things. I’m glad they parted ways, even though it was sad to see her lose her companion, because seeing her as the person in control of her life and her career was even better.



Peggy Olsen
I was really excited about the idea of Joan and Peggy striking up a partnership, so I was disappointed that it didn’t happen. I suppose Peggy had to stay on at McCann, because she and Don would work on Coke together, as her conversation with him suggested. So, professionally, I still liked where Peggy ended up. But I would’ve liked to see more of that. I would have liked to see her journey in the final episode to be more about that scene where she demands an acceptable explanation of why she was taken off an account, and then getting that account back. It was the key to her wanting to stay back at McCann. I would have focused more on that, and I would have dropped the part where she and Stan got together. It wasn’t as convincing as it probably could have been. When he admitted he had feelings for her, it almost seemed like she was trying to convince herself that she had feelings for him too. And that made their union feel quite forced and unnecessary.



Pete Campbell’s ending was probably the most indulgent—a little too ‘happily ever after’ for a show like MAD MEN—but it was still nice to see him back with Trudy. They were always good together. He was an ass, and it’s good that he realized what he had lost and had the sense to take back what he had let slip away.



Betty Francis 
The saddest was seeing how Sally almost took over from Betty. Whether it was her doing the dishes at the end, or taking over preparing dinner from Bobby earlier, it was really heartbreaking. Betty has been one of the strongest characters on the show and it’s been incredible to see her journey. It was gut-wrenching but really admirable, when, in the previous episode, she insisted on continuing college, staying true to everything we’ve known her to be, and that’s what we saw of her even in the finale.


MAD MEN may not have had the best ending, but it was perfect in many ways, and it’ll always remain a very special show for me, and for everything related to television.  

Saturday, April 25, 2015

DEREK SHEPHERD IS DEAD

In ‘How To Save A life’—season 11, episode 21 of GREY’S ANATOMY, Meredith said goodbye to her husband and we said goodbye to another person from the original cast—the beloved character whom we all fondly know as ‘McDreamy’
  

It’s official. The McDays of GREY’S ANATOMY are over. After we said goodbye to Mark ‘McSteamy’ Sloan in season 9, this Thursday, it was time to say goodbye to the guy that survived a plane crash, being shot in the chest, and even a different car accident back in an earlier season of the show.

Derek died in quite a ridiculous way, to be honest. Yes, it was lovely to see him as the hero, the guy who helps people pull themselves together, who keeps a calm head, and to hear him say, “It’s a beautiful day to save lives,” all for one last time. However, for a brain surgeon, it was rather stupid of him to stop his car in the middle of the highway, sideways at that, especially after having just witnessed a horrifying car crash that almost quite literally cut a woman in half. But I suppose the ‘how’ of it doesn’t matter anymore. What we saw next was probably a very refreshing way of seeing the last few moments of a character’s life on GREY'S ANATOMY. Firstly, it was interesting to see it all going down in a different hospital. To have had a major character fighting for their life at Grey+Sloan, with all the surgeons that we know trying save the life, would’ve been something we’ve seen too many times before—from George O’Malley to Meredith herself. Mark Sloan, Callie Torres, Arizona Robbins, Richard Webber, and Derek Shepherd even.

With Derek knowing that what the doctors were doing would result in his death was kind of heartbreaking, as he, in his mind, instructs them on how to save a life, but in vain, obviously. What was even more heartbreaking was seeing Meredith finally telling her husband, “Derek, it's okay. You go. We'll be fine.” Moreso when the nurse asks her if she's ready, and she says, "No, but go ahead." We might have expected a major break-down or to see her just frozen and numb from the bomb that had just fallen on her, but the route that Shonda Rhimes took was impressive. Meredith has grown immensely as a person and as a character, and the way she reacted to her husband dying was a perfect representation of that. For her to explain to the doctor that her husband’s death needs to not have been in vain, and that she needs to learn from it, was disturbingly good. And in it all, I thought that despite Derek being the center of the episode, the true hero was Meredith. But I suspect things will change.

If there’s one thing that Shonda Rhimes knows how to do is to write a big event to conclude anything from a season to a character’s journey, but not let it just have been for that. Derek’s death is going to affect everything and everyone, and Meredith’s goodbye is going to be nothing in comparison to what we're yet to see from her. Remember when Henry died, and Teddy couldn’t get over how it had happened? Remember when Denny Duquette died and Izzie couldn’t get off the bathroom floor? Remember when Lexie died and Mark lost his will to survive? Now, with Derek dead, it’s only a matter of time before Meredith unravels. I’m very sure that Rhimes is going to drag Meredith through hell before she can make her peace with her husband's passing. Her mother died, her sister died, her ‘person’ left. And yes, she said she doesn’t need Derek in her life, like she used to, but his death is going to leave a hole in a way that we can’t imagine.

However, what concerns me is how this will affect Amelia Shepherd. She and Derek have had a complicated relationship but a lovely one, which I have always enjoyed seeing, even on PRIVATE PRACTICE. I've liked seeing them as brother and sister, since she became a series regular on GREY'S, and now I'm sad that I won't get anymore of that. 

Before we see the two-hour special next Thursday, let’s take a moment to realize that Derek Shepherd will never operate in a Grey+Sloan OR again, or have sex in a Grey+Sloan on-call room again, or say, “It’s a beautiful day to save lives!” ever again.