‘The Gilded Age’ Ends Its First Season With Social Chess And Lots Of Potential For The Future
Julian FellowesThe long-delayed “The Gilded Age” wrapped up its first season tonight with plenty of potential. But it took a long time to get there.
When the first episodes were unveiled, the series – set in 1882 Manhattan – looked like a pale reminder of “Downton Abbey”. Many of the characters, especially those working “downstairs”, were reminiscent of Mrs. Patmore and Carson and Mrs. Hughes etc.
On top of that, some actors were very clumsy and the casting was uneven. Christine Baransky and Cynthia Nixon hit their stride right away. Corn Carrie Coon, who plays the manipulative and social-climbing Mrs. Russell, felt out of her depth. Her cadences were harsh and she seemed unsure of who Mrs. Russell was or what she was doing.
Luckily, by tonight’s full episode, Ms. Russell has it together. I still don’t encourage Coon’s speech pattern, but she definitely feels more settled in the role. She had to do it tonight. All of Mrs. Russell’s machinations – using her giddy daughter to negotiate a place in society – have come together. At the same time, her husband’s JR Ewing, like the jockey, paid off for her. Morgan Spector is really smiling like a Cheshire cat with the character of Mr. Russell.
“The Gilded Age” has a well-to-do black family living in Brooklyn, who I love even though I don’t know how much believable there is. Corn Denee Benton and six-time Tony winner audra mcdonald are so perfect in their roles as daughter and mother, please let their stories continue and grow. There’s also a gay story that seems a little far-fetched for the time and modeled after “Downton Abbey,” but okay, this is going to get interesting.
Ultimately, however, “The Gilded Age” is about class, not race or gender. These are “new funds” that are taking hold in the old world. Fellowes stops short of revealing that the Russells are Jewish, although Mr. Russell is referring to a Jewish banking company. Baranski’s Agnes van Rijhn is very snobby, impatient with all newcomers, but has a fondness for black people. (We don’t know what she’ll say if she finds out her son is gay.)
I can’t help but think of one of Baranski’s golden moments in movies: She plays Claus von Bulow’s girlfriend, Andrea Reynolds, in “Reversal of Fortune.” von Bulow summons attorney Alan Dershowitz (Ron Silver) to defend it. Baranski enters the room as Jeremy Irons (von Bulow) interviews Dershowitz. Waving a finger, Reynolds snaps, “I made him hire you. Catch the Jew, I said. No kidding, it’s all over Aunt Agnes’ face now whenever the Russells are mentioned. It’s so funny. Baranski and Nixon, playing his sweet sister, must get Emmys.
The great pleasures of “The Gilded Age”, by the way, are all the Broadway actors. Donna Murphy like Mrs., Astor, Michel Cerveris as a mysterious butler, etc. But my favorite, to my surprise, is Kelli O’Hara as the cousin who guides young Marian (Louisa Jacobson). O’Hara is a Broadway superstar who has never had a good TV or movie role. Turns out she kills him. I can’t wait to see the rest of his story.
The show is based on the ingenue Marian, niece of the affluent society sisters played by Baranski and Nixon. Yes, Jacobson is Meryl Streepthe girl from in real life, but Jacobson has found her groove. She is clearly the central character, the one we are looking for among all these bustles and footmen. His Marian managed to dodge a bad marriage tonight, but what fun Fellowes will have designing his next chapter. So we’re waiting for season 2. but just one thing: someone lower the sharpness of the lighting!