The Gilded Age: Never the New
January 25, 2022 11:24 AM - Season 1, Episode 1 - Subscribe

1882. After the death of her father and accompanied by Peggy Scott, Marian Brook travels to New York to live with her aristocratic aunts, Agnes van Rhijn and Ada Brook. Meanwhile, determined to break into society, ruthless tycoon George Russell and his ambitious wife Bertha move their family into a lavish mansion across the street and prepare to throw their first soirée.

[Summary courtesy HBO]

"Though the racist microaggressions Peggy encounters are far from easy to watch (and they’re not supposed to be), the scenes help immediately define the van Rhijn downstairs set for viewers through a set of eyes not usually given a perspective in these series. In contrast, the Russells’ downstairs team is far less interesting, a major letdown since the upstairs story on that side of the street is, so far, the far superior one."—from The AV Club's "A-" review.

"Will Marian get better? Or maybe instead Peggy can take over as the protagonist and Marian can go away somewhere?"—from Vulture's 3-star review.
posted by bcwinters (20 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
"Great gowns, beautiful gowns"—Aretha Franklin

Here's a list of all the Tony Awards the cast has won. (Shout out to the dummy on the IMDb comments board who said the cast were "nobodies and B rate")
posted by bcwinters at 11:47 AM on January 25, 2022 [6 favorites]

This is gorgeous, and there are some promising interesting storylines - but nothing has hooked me yet (to overcome the malus of a story about old/ new money) but I'll definitely be giving this at least a 3 ep treatment.

Always nice to see Christine Baranski (Agnes Van Rhijn). Similar for Taissa Farmiga (Gladys Russell) - but/ and/ what!? she's looking almost half her actual age (28) - and Jeanne Tripplehorn (IMDB says she's in 10 eps, but who does she play? I also didn't recognize Cynthia Nixon).

Louisa Jacobson (cousin Marian Brook) is gorgeous, and similarly, looking a decade younger than her actual age (31). She shares very similar looks with her sister Grace Gummer (Dominique DiPierro, 'Mr. Robot') - they're both daughters of Meryl Streep.

fwiw, Baranski is 70.

Am very interested to see if Denée Benton is given anything to work with as Peggy Scott. I really like Audra McDonald's Dorothy Scott as mother to Peggy, playing a (relatively) well to do/ polite society Black woman in that location and era, but waiting to be disappointed with the material (if any) given to the character. I hope that I'm wrong.

I keep getting wry chuckles when Gladys' debutante keeps getting referred to as "coming out." Debutante is a cultural thing that I've been meaning to learn more about, especially how it branches out (social speciation, as it may) in the South and between Whites and African-Americans, and the further speciation between "Mayflower"-type Whites and, well, child beauty pageants. With Quinceañera as a seeming cousin of the practice. And then Ball culture, with deep roots in New York, for LGBTQ with emphasis on Trans (yes, I've seen the series 'Pose' and recommend it for everyone).

One last thing; wearing shoes indoors. In the context of a House being something to "entertain" people in a formal setting. As a Canadian (and a HK Chinese) - wearing outdoor shoes indoors is a huge wtf. Sure, indoor shoes for comfort and warmth (even fashion and fun), but, just, does not compute. But inexpensive servants, public/ private divides for a "Manor," etc.
posted by porpoise at 6:16 PM on January 25, 2022 [2 favorites]

"I'll never know what the poor of New York will make of lobster salad."

... Wasn't lobster still "cockroach of the sea" in that era? Poor era research, or did lobster achieve "culinary delicacy" by this time? Historically, lobster wasn't considered appetizing until at least the 1880s (helped by the acknowledgement that it needed to be cooked fresh/ alive; development of live holding pens).

Lobster, like many prawns, release proteinases shortly after death and leave the flesh with a mushy texture and degraded flavour. Unless they're decapitated before death, then the flesh can be flash frozen without much degradation in quality (and tiger prawns can even be thawed and refrozen without much degradation).
posted by porpoise at 6:43 PM on January 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

Am very interested to see if Denée Benton is given anything to work with as Peggy Scott.

This article suggests probably so?
posted by jedicus at 8:44 PM on January 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

Christine Baranski and Audra McDonald? This better not interfere with the filming of the next season of The Good Fight. I’m already worried about Gary Cole.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:16 PM on January 25, 2022 [3 favorites]

I really wanted to be sucked into this show but it left me feeling very meh. Will definitely watch the next couple of episodes to give it a chance though. Seems like it has a lot of promise.
posted by MadMadam at 7:21 AM on January 26, 2022

This didn't grip me immediately the way the very first Downton Abbey did, but I'm up to keep watching to see how it develops. Hoping it gets as interesting as early years of D.A. were - (by the end it had devolved into a repetitive soap opera.)

I'm curious to see who the show seems to want us to be rooting for. The "Old New York" set are of course snobbish, which people will probably find off-putting nowadays. But the Russells are really the 1880s version of the Trumps, so please don't try to get me to like them!
posted by dnash at 8:06 AM on January 26, 2022

This did not grab me at all. The writing is poor. For example, we are told—explicitly—several times about the clash of Old Money versus New Money to the point that I laughed out loud towards the end when the point was hammered home again. I asked my wife "was this written for children?" And the (paraphrasing) "We're New Yorkers now... we're free to do anything!" scene was so clunky I cringed. Same with the "You're going to RUIN me!" exposition scene with the railroad baron. The pacing was plodding and dull. None of the characters really appealed to me, even though many of the performances were good.

Cinematically it looks cheap and flat too— despite the lavish costumes. I don't want to be too negative. I am a casual fan of Downton Abbey (missed an entire season), so I'll likely tune in again to see if it picks up. But I was kind of surprised by how much this show did not click with me.
posted by SoberHighland at 11:42 AM on January 26, 2022 [5 favorites]

Agreed -- the acting seems really horrible across the board. Would it all sound better with British accents maybe?
posted by Clustercuss at 12:51 PM on January 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

This was trite and the dialogue was stilted, like everyone was giving a speech. What a waste of a bunch of great actors in the service of bad writing.

I think the comment comparing it to Downton Abbey is probably right -- the idea is to dazzle us with old-time spectacle & costumes combined with shockingly old-fashioned social attitudes. There's no reason they couldn't do all that and still make a good show: look at Mad Men and Mrs. Maisel.

My quest for the next The Good Wife continues. Don't give up your other job, Christine!
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 10:50 PM on January 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

It's the same creator/showrunner as Downton.

In my fantasy TV world, they would get the writers room from Sucession to work on this. This could be Oscar Wilde-level incisive and clever.
posted by jeoc at 7:33 AM on January 27, 2022 [5 favorites]

I'm curious to see who the show seems to want us to be rooting for. The "Old New York" set are of course snobbish, which people will probably find off-putting nowadays. But the Russells are really the 1880s version of the Trumps, so please don't try to get me to like them!

Seems like the show basically wants us to root for the younger generation on both sides, who are happy to be friends with each other and don't care much about the Old/New divide but also aren't trying to deliberately smash the Old/New divide. Hopefully they'll keep to that, otherwise this show runs a real risk of having nobody to root for.

I did entertain myself by trying to figure out which Newport mansions were being used for which sets but I have to admit, SoberHighland's points about how clunkily everything was spelled out - often repeatedly - are spot on. I'll give it some more episodes but my feeling right now is that the writing lacks faith in both the actors to deliver nuance and the viewers to pick up on that nuance.
posted by mstokes650 at 9:13 AM on January 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

The Guardian didn't enjoy it.
posted by biffa at 9:21 AM on January 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

I suppose I'm in the minority here - I thought it was fun! Sure, it's not ground-breaking TV or anything, but it's a pleasure to look at and this first episode seemed to be doing a lot of work setting the scene - I imagine it will get a bit more nuanced over the course of the season.

From lobster's wiki page: "The American lobster did not achieve popularity until the mid-19th century, when New Yorkers and Bostonians developed a taste for it"
posted by coffeecat at 3:35 PM on January 27, 2022 [3 favorites]

This series is a perhaps crass attempt to extend the Downton Abbey franchise by conjuring up Edith Wharton, which is fine, though as the Guardian pointed out, "It has all of the detail and none of the soul." Which goes some way to explaining my sense that, so far, it's all surface. I'm hoping that this talented cast can reach deeper as the episodes proceed.

One big drawback for me, the actors seem to be announcing their lines rather than saying them; the dialog is almost laughably stilted. Is this what happens when an Englishman writes a period piece for an American cast?

So far, I'm most enjoying Louisa Jacobsen. I didn't know there was a third "Gummer girl." Big weight to carry, but she's handling it seemingly effortlessly.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:07 PM on January 30, 2022 [1 favorite]

conjuring up Edith Wharton

I would kill for even a drop of Wharton's clear-eyed sharpness in this show (what this piece in the New Yorker called "storytelling [as] an act of exposure...weaponized".). Namedropping the Jones family ain't it.

Maybe I just want an American Forsyte Saga instead of an American Downton Abbey. Or I guess if I want to watch amazing women chewing on killer dialog while wearing absurd hats there's always repeats of Deadwood.

(Yes I'll still be posting about the second episode tonight anyway, sigh.)
posted by bcwinters at 8:59 AM on January 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

I thought there was a lot to like here. It's not exactly breaking new ground but everything Julian Fellows works on I watch it kind of as if I'm watching a marionette show where he's like controlling all the puppets and saying things like "I am a proper English butler and I am NOT racist!" And "I will force them to love me because I am rich and I deserve it!" And "We will never love them because.. we're scared!" And then I politely clap and say "Quite an entertaining spectacle, Mr. Fellows!"
posted by bleep at 12:23 PM on February 1, 2022 [4 favorites]

I enjoyed this! Yeah it's maybe a bit "all of the detail and none of the soul" but I'm hopeful it will develop. Loved all the costumes and period bits. And excited to see Carrie Coon in a leading role; she was so good in The Leftovers.

The part that jarred me most was how the downstairs life of the servants felt exactly like Downton Abbey; the room layout, the outfits, the roles. I was waiting to mere the Mrs. Patmore accent. I suppose that's unavoidable given the way American society was borrowing from British here, but it felt weirdly derivative.
posted by Nelson at 2:42 PM on February 1, 2022

I was less than a minute into the trailer before I decided that Edith Wharton did it so much better. (As others here have already pointed out.) It's a pity because the cast is pretty great. But I guess they are doing the best they can with the pap they've been given.

Honestly, Julian Fellowes is a mystifyingly bad screenwriter. I found Downton Abbey a hack version of Upstairs Downstairs; his adaptation of Doctor Thorne was deeply weird; and if you are ever in need of a "spit out your drink" pick-me-up, check out his version of Agatha Christie Golden Age murders.
posted by basalganglia at 5:00 PM on February 1, 2022

Definitely watch Scorsese's The Age of Innocence if you like this period. It's everything this show is trying to be, and so much more.
posted by BibiRose at 6:31 AM on February 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

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