The First Lady Review 2022 Tv Show Series Season Cast Crew
If Showtime’s new series “The First Lady” is to be believed, being the president’s wife is one of the most thankless and frustrating jobs on the planet. First ladies have given up their own ambitions, livelihoods, friends, and personalities, all in service of their presidential husbands. They exist to remind the nation of domesticity and femininity and basically are meant to be seen and not heard.
At least, that’s what the show suggests history has always tried to make them. The show follows the “ripped from the headlines”-style stories of three memorable First Ladies who tried to forge their own paths: Gillian Anderson’s Eleanor Roosevelt, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Betty Ford, and Viola Davis’ Michelle Obama.
Each woman has her own challenges laid out from the jump. Michelle Obama faces not only the racist shitheads who oppose her husband’s election but also the haters both in and out of the White House who doesn’t believe she can help enact healthcare reform. Eleanor Roosevelt is similarly shunned, even after helping her husband hide his illness and claim the highest office in the land. She finds her own path—and maybe even a lover—but that’s only after years of struggling to discover what she’s really capable of. And while Betty Ford is comfortable taking a slightly more backseat role, she’s also committed to being herself, flaws and all, despite what her husband’s chief of staff, the show’s sinister Donald Rumsfeld, would, for some reason, prefer.
One of the limited series’ biggest challenges is how to re-tell compelling stories that many of us already know, especially if we’re watching this series. We’ve all heard of Eleanor Roosevelt’s old chestnuts and have at least guessed how The Betty Ford Center got its name. The show tries to spin a good story and remind us of the First Ladies’ respective struggles, but some of it feels like old hat.
There’s also the issue of time. The Obamas story is so recent that it’s hard to know if the show can be objective. Barack Obama comes off like the world’s most swoon-inducing boyfriend and all-around good dude, and while it’s possible that he is that, it’s also probable that 20-odd more years of distance will give us more perspective on his two terms in office.
To the show’s credit, it’s got a bang-up cast, right down to its supporting actors like Judy Greer, Lily Rabe, and Dakota Fanning. The actresses playing young misses Obama and Ford (Jayme Lawson and Kristine Froseth, respectively) are especially good, and O-T Fagbenle’s Barack Obama is spot-on without being a gimmick.
On the other hand, Anderson and Davis struggle a bit, and not because they’re not doing uncanny impressions of their inspirations. Davis’ Obama is eerily good at first, second, and third glance, but over the course of the entire first season, her commitment to some of Obama’s facial tics can seem a little forced, like she’s somehow thinking, “I’ve got to purse my lips after every single line.” Anderson’s Roosevelt, in contrast, is almost too different from the original source. Even with flat hair and dowdy clothes, Anderson is still more incandescent than awkward. While she does her best to capture Roosevelt’s oddly British affect, viewers might be left wondering how much of Anderson’s Roosevelt apes from both Anderson’s own light British affect and her recent portrayal of hard-line Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
“The First Lady” fails because it’s telling us stories that we already know in a fairly surface-level fashion. While it’s certainly commendable that the show shines its light on the forgotten struggles of these three notable women, it’s almost a shame that the show chose to highlight first ladies whose stories have already been so vigorously told. (Only Jackie Kennedy’s history is more known at this point.) Given that “The First Lady” is meant to be a limited series, it’s unlikely that we’ll get to dive deeper into the bench and learn a little about, say, Dolley Madison or Mamie Eisenhower. Those names might not be as poster-worthy as Roosevelt or Obama, but their stories are surely just as layered—and even more forgotten.