You go, America! We're having a moment of cultural upheaval that rivals the Civil Rights movement in 1960s, the protest of the Vietnam War in the 1970s and the rejection of New Coke in the 1980s. One of the current prominent movements is #MeToo, a long overdue recognition of gender inequality that has led to the collapse of many disgusting titans of industry and the recognition of the importance of female voices.
Naturally, this shift in perspective is going to find its way to the small screen with new stories to tell, and the latest female-forward series coming to your living room is Paramount's American Woman (Thursday, June 6 at 10/9c on Paramount Network). The half-hour series marks the return of Alicia Silverstone to your life, as she plays a recently single mother of two, struggling against a man's world in 1970s Los Angeles. It's also based on the mother of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Kyle Richards and Kyle's childhood, for whatever that's worth (Richards is a co-executive producer).
But as a bland comedy about a woman trying to make it without her man, American Woman appears to be riding the #MeToo movement rather than servicing it. The world needs stories about strong, complex women, and though Silverstone's Bonnie Nolan shows signs of confidence and strength at times in the first three episodes provided to critics — after a table-setting pilot that is just the logline in motion, it isn't until the end of Episode 2 after the setup from the pilot that Bonnie makes a truly bold decision in reconciling her new life — they're few and far between.
Instead, Bonnie deals with the predictable obstacles you'd expect her to — the potential loss of her home, car and other assets, getting back into dating, her total schmo of a husband (James Tupper) banging younger, hotter women — with a typical panic. It's not that we shouldn't see her deal with these, it's just that there should be more ingenuity with how she solves them.
Bonnie, a housewife her entire adult life, doesn't have any skills to get her back in the work force, but worse, doesn't have any skills that make her a compelling character aside from Silverstone's trademark crooked grin. Twice, she gets her way with stern businessmen by threatening to boycott their business or their rival's, which doesn't exactly take Walter White levels of smart. We obviously want to see her succeed as a victim of the rampant 1970s misogyny we now recognize as evil, but she needs to be more than just a woman who was cheated on to make the character (and the message) work.
Though billed as a sitcom, American Woman is — how do I put this? — not funny. Beats are predictable, quips tumbleweed across the screen, and the humorous situations — like one character's detour into drugs (quaaludes, baby!) that ends with the trope of jumping off a roof into a swimming pool during a party — pepper the first three episodes like a montage of other shows. American Woman also isn't serious enough to carry weight. Though Bonnie is in dire straits, at one point saying she has less than $150 in her checking account, she's also frequently poolside or holding a martini that even T.G.I. Fridays would consider f***ing huge. We're in an age where comedy can be taken seriously while also being funny, but American Woman puts too much gloss on Bonnie's supposed hard times, and the result is a flimsy message.
Sharing her uneasy times are Bonnie's friends Kathleen (Mena Suvari), a well-to-do entrepreneur without the business sense to be good at it, and Diana (Jennifer Bartels), a banker who's looking for more out of her job. Together, the three discuss the men (or lack thereof) in their lives and career aspirations, usually with said massive cocktails in hand while out and about in sunny L.A.
That does make American Woman a fun watch for the eyes, though. '70s go-go fashion is everywhere and the colors pop off the screen, capturing the glamorous Hollywood lifestyle of the swingin' era almost to a cartoonish level. I mean, everyone wants to have sex with each other in the show and the men need hairstylists more than the women. But period pieces are no longer unique on television, and unless the specific time period truly affects the show's engine, it's just window dressing, as it is here.
No, the reason to watch American Woman is for Silverstone in her first starring role on a TV series since 2003's Miss Match (it's OK, I don't remember that one either). She looks about five years older than she did in 1995's Clueless, and passes herself off as the trophy wife she's meant to be. The effortless charm is still there, too, but it isn't able to overcome the parts of Bonnie that Silverstone doesn't have control over. It's a shame because the world is ready for Silverstone's comeback, it's just not going to happen yet.
American Woman means well but just can't figure out what show it's trying to be, which makes it a good fit for the equally identity-free Paramount Network. (It was initially developed for the lighthearted career revival headquarters of TV Land, which makes a lot of sense.)
Silverstone will get her shot again, it just won't be here.
American Woman premieres Wednesday, June 6 at 10/9c on Paramount Network.