MRS.AMERICA'S smartest move was deciding to be a TV show first and a history lesson second, although it takes a while for that distinction to emerge. Created and mostly written by Mad Men screenwriter-producer Dahvi Waller, and co-produced and frequently co-directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Captain Marvel), the FX on Hulu limited series brings many leaders of mid-century American feminism into one storyline, and it rarely passes up a chance to pack four or five of them into the same room, the better to showcase how different they all were.
The inevitable flood of fact-checking pieces will determine whether particular conversations are historically “realistic” in terms of what was said and where. What matters more is the complexity and generosity of the show’s vision of American life and the crackling ensemble of its famous heroines—including Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne), Shirley Chisholm (Uzo Aduba), Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale), Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman), and Jill Ruckelshaus (Elizabeth Banks)—jammed into Abzug’s D.C. office to envision the future. Over the course of nine briskly paced hours, the group strategizes about how to empower the newly founded National Women’s Political Caucus, lobby mostly male Democratic and Republican leaders to make abortion legal, to try to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, and to neutralize pushback from charismatic reactionaries like Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett). At its best, the series gives you the contact high of a heist picture. The vault is patriarchy, the locked-up fortune is equal rights and equal wages, and the recurring strategic question is whether to keep gently turning the lock back and forth until the right combination reveals itself or just blow the bloody doors off.
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