Long ago, when it was first announced Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills queen Kyle Richards was developing a semi-autobiographical dramedy about her childhood for TV Land titled American Woman, I assumed it would be a semi-cheesy family comedy. It was 2016, and the network was synonymous with shows like Hot In Cleveland — remember that Betty White show? — and Soul Man, a religious comedy my parents watched, well, religiously. The net's peppy cult favourite Younger had only premiered a year earlier.
My, oh my, how things have changed in two years. Now, Richards’ brainchild is set to premiere Thursday 7th June in the US (UK premiere TBC), on an entirely different TV home, the fledgling Paramount Network, with the kind of free-wheeling, vodka-swilling, threesome-propositioning dramedy that would make Betty White’s supposedly sweltering Cleveland look positively polar. The 1970s-set American Woman, starring an anything-but clueless Alicia Silverstone, is the breezy feminist summer series you’ve been waiting for.
Right off the bat, American Woman wants you to know Silverstone’s Bonnie Nolan isn’t a regular Beverly Hills housewife; she’s a tough one. In the first seconds of the series, we see the perfectly coiffed mom-of-two take down a snooty salesman with a smile and a carefully crafted threat. She defends the concept of women wanting to work to her husband of nearly two decades, Steve (James Tupper), an icon of walking, bad-suit-wearing chauvinism. When two creepy losers try to terrify Bonnie on the road, she hops out of her car to terrify them. Oh, yeah, and she piles her furs, diamonds, and two daughters into said car to trail her “working late” husband to figure out if he is cheating.
As every trailer, headline, and Kyle Richards interview has confirmed, Steve is most certainly cheating on Bonnie, as Richards' father had done to her mom Kathleen, whom the RHOBH star shares with sisters Kim Richards and Kathy Hilton. With Bonnie being Tough Bonnie, the outing of Steve's infidelity obviously means the Nolans are headed for a split. There will be no quiet acceptance of blatant husbandly disrespect here. This is what leads us to the real heart of the bubbly period piece: What happens when the life you know is completely turned upside-down? After all, it’s not like kept woman Bonnie, who doesn't even possess a cheque book, is only losing the plush, head-in-the-sand life Steve afforded her. No, the 1970s were an era of countrywide flux, where women’s rights, cultural mores, and national expectations were all subject to immediate, unexpected, jarring change.
And Bonnie, a woman who has been hiding in her gilded, Sunshine State cage for 16 years, is expected to find her footing in all of that.
Thankfully, our heroine has two guides into her brand new world, best friends Diana (Jennifer Bartels), a type-A Working Woman with flawless Lynda Carter-ish waves, and Kathleen (Mena Suvari), an apparent Texas heiress with a habit of choosing the wrong — aka closeted — guys, like Cheyenne Jackson’s heavily moustachioed casting director Greg. Diana and Kathleen serve as Bonnie’s respective Superego and Id as she strives to find her own purpose in the newly-single chaos Steve created for her. Since we’re talking about three affluent BFFs who love day drinking poolside, that means American Woman has the luxury of lots of boozy chats filled with diaphanous gowns, hijinks at fancy Malibu parties, and shopping trips. If this sounds like an episode of Real Housewives, it should. Remember, this is a Kyle Richards production.
But, Woman is much more than a scripted, vintage version of everyone’s favourite Bravo staple. Instead, the series comes off as the love child of the reality TV touchstone and last year’s Amazon Prime Video breakout, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. While the biggest problems on RHOBH often boil down to “Is someone using the wrong stemware at Dorit Kemsley's house?” the Paramount Network newbie has real stakes, much like the fictional life of Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) following her own husband’s cheating scandal.
Like Midge, fellow mom-of-two Bonnie has no idea who she is without the title “housewife” next to her name. Unlike Midge, it takes Bonnie much longer than one drunken night in a downtown club to figure out the answer. Along the way, the American Woman lead has to figure out how to keep her daughters’ lives chugging along as the comforts they’ve always expected disappear.
Yet, as Maisel did before American Woman, the dramedy manages to stay as airy as cotton candy while delving into these tough topics. That’s probably because Bonnie seems so certain everything is going to work out for herself and her girls, she convinces viewers to believe the same through sheer power of will.
It’s not like we would ever say no to Cher Horowitz.