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Alicia Silverstone Makes 'American Woman' Worth a Look
June 7, 2018  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment

When I mentioned to my wife that the new Paramount sitcom American Woman is rooted in the story of a Real Housewives participant, she replied, “Isn’t that a little like a dog chasing its tail?”

It’s hard to argue her point. The wild card is Alicia Silverstone (top), who turns out to be totally winning as the star of American Woman, which premieres Thursday at 10 p.m. ET.

Silverstone plays Bonnie Nolan, a Beverly Hills housewife who in 1975 seems to be living the dream. She has a rich husband, Steve (James Tupper, whose resume prominently includes, yes, Desperate Housewives). They live in a big old house with a panoramic view, a pool, a pool boy, a gardener and, well, you get the idea.

Bonnie shops a lot, in stores where a dress might cost more than the gardener’s annual income. When she’s not shopping or driving her two daughters to and from school, she’s often sitting by the pool with her two best friends, the even richer Kathleen (Mena Suvari, top) and lawyer Diana (Jennifer Bartels, top), sipping drinks and chatting about Kathleen’s new boyfriend Greg (Cheyenne Jackson, left, with Suvari) or their other rich friends.  

Steve’s the kind of hubby who doesn’t think the Little Woman needs her own money, even a checking account, because he takes care of her. If she needs something, she just asks him for it. What’s the problem?

Then it turns out Steve’s also the kind of hubby who tells Bonnie he’s working late and then drives to a motel on the dodgy side of town to meet a tootsie in a black nightgown.

Bonnie knows this because she follows him to the motel, with her two daughters – young teen Becca (Makenna James) and preteen Jessica (Lia McHugh) – in the car.

We need to mention here that when Bonnie is trailing him to the motel, she looks around at a Los Angeles she’s never seen before and blurts out, “Is there a part of town they didn’t finish?”

That needs to be mentioned because even though Bonnie’s marriage has just imploded and her life has fallen apart, American Woman never forgets it’s also a comedy.

What unfolds after Bonnie’s recon mission will surprise no one. She confronts Steve, he tries to explain, she throws him out.

She keeps the house, but has no cash or marketable skills. Then we find Steve’s been cheating on more than his wife, and Bonnie’s financial situation turns graver.

She admits to an employment counselor that her resume is “thin.” The counselor replies, “Twiggy is thin.”

As this passing moments suggests, it won’t hurt to brush up on the 1970s before watching American Woman. Think round glasses. Think smoking at the tables in restaurants.

The music is retro even for 1975, featuring songs like “Bad Moon Rising” or “In Dreams.” For those who don’t recognize any of that, Kelly Clarkson sings an updated version of the title song.

As Bonnie tries to maintain the bones of a champagne life on a Boone’s Farm budget, we gradually see that Kathleen and Diana also face subtle and not-so-subtle gender bias hurdles in their lives and careers.

Those hurdles are serious. They will be recognizable to anyone who lived in real life then and not unfamiliar to those who live today. They will also not be unfamiliar to those who have seen any of the numerous similar television dramas on the subject.

Still, couching the issues in jokes, often dark and exasperated, isn’t a bad way to illuminate them, and Silverstone is brilliant at pulling back just enough of the velvet glove so we get a glimpse of the emerging iron fist.

Also, you can watch American Woman without getting any overt connection to the annoying Real Housewives franchise. For the record, Kyle Richards was a young child herself in the ‘70s and based this story on her memories of her sometimes-single mother, who died in 2002. Richards also has had a long career as an actual actress.

We’ve still got a dog chasing its tail. But thanks to Silverstone, this dog can hunt.

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I don't understand why you don't make the network or service carrying the show prominent in your review. I can get some, not all -- so I'd like to know before I spend the time on the review. Maybe it's there somewhere, but why not make it obvious? I wrote this here once before a long time ago. I guess I may be all wrong but I find this very annoying!! Not everyone has the same universal access to these things. jeesh. Normal people read your stuff!
Jun 9, 2018   |  Reply
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