From the creator of Downton Abbey, Belgravia and The English Game comes The Gilded Age. Truthfully, this one gets somewhat of a pass because I expect, nay demand, that it get better. After one Monday night episode on HBO, what is the problem? Are we really supposed to care about a bunch of snobbish folks in 1882 New York City? Thus far, Julian Fellowes provides the viewer with few sympathetic characters. Are the old rich, the Astors, The Vanderbilts, and the van Rhijns, being pushed out by the new rich, the Russells, and the Chamberlains? Shall their social circles never cross?
Still, The Gilded Age is beautifully decorated, gorgeously dressed, just what you might expect from the rich and famous of the time. But, is “you are the future and they are the past and that’s what scares them” enough to sprout a saga? Sure, Fellowes throws in some upstairs, downstairs vibe with butlers and maids, a whiff of forbidden LBGTQA, and racial discrimination, but the primary focus is on status. Can he sustain nine episodes between now and March 21? History tells us not to bet against Fellowes. At this point, I can only give The Gilded Age 3.5 Gavels and note that the 80% Rotten Tomatoes rating and 8.1/10 IMDb score indicate a more promising future.
Left nothing from the estate of her father, Marian Brook must live under the “rule” of her aunt, Agnes van Rhijn, in NYC. On her way, the theft of her purse requires her to rely upon the largesse of a would-be writer, Peggy Scott. In need of a secretary, Agnes hires Peggy. Across the street, Bertha and George Russell move into a spacious mansion, designed for entertaining. Determined to break into the social circles of the old rich, Bertha invites them to a “calling,” certain they will want to see the new house. It does not go well. “I’ll make them sorry one day.” “You do that. Defeat is not your color.” The hostilities have just begun.
Christine Baranski, formerly of The Good Wife, is born to play the role of Agnes. She would rather roll in the gutter than associate with Bertha, acted by Carrie Coon (Ghostbusters: Afterlife). Both are so good that you take an instant dislike to each. Cynthia Nixon is Ada Brook, sister of Agnes, aunt to Marian, so vanilla as to cause one to wonder if she has a spine. Daughter of Meryl Streep, Louisa Jacobson makes her debut as Marian. “Revolutions are started by people with strong views and excess energy.” Will Marian be the one.
Bertha Russell has “imagination, taste, and nerve. To break into New York society, she will need all three.” Still, it is Larry Russell and Marian Brook that have eyes for each other. One suspects that the two will cause sleepless nights for parents and guardians. No American story of the 1880’s would be complete without a robber baron. George Russell is off to a fine start.
“All of it dares a certain kind of Masterpiece acolyte to complain missing the relative quietude of English countryside… The rest of us will be content to drool at each of Bertha’s fabulous dresses or chortle at Agnes’ quick comebacks.” Salon.com
“Hardly anybody in The Gilded Age is as pure, or as dark, as they initially appear to be. That’s what makes them all so intriguing.” Chicago Sun-Times
If I had to bet against myself, I’d wager I’ll rue the day only giving The Gilded Age 3.5 Gavels. Like Taylor Sheridan, Fellowes rarely misses with me. I’ll certainly hang around for awhile. He’s earned my respect.