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The Astronaut Wives Club - Series Pilot - Advance Preview: "Blast Off"

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ABC is hoping for a successful mission with its newest summer drama, “The Astronaut Wives Club.” If their pilot launch is any indication, I predict they’ll blast off with a captive audience.

The period drama, set in the late ‘50s/early ‘60s, follows the lives of the seven women behind the first American astronauts. These young wives stood beside their husbands as the country watched the men’s death-defying missions. The women quickly became celebrated American royalty as “LIFE” magazine documented their lives behind the scenes.

The show is based on Lily Koppel’s book of the same name. The drama was created, written and executive produced by Stephanie Savage (“Gossip Girl,” “The O.C.”).

I found the pilot episode of this series to be a lot of fun. Most of its allure is based on the show’s great female characters (real-life women, of course), played by a marvelous cast. These seven wives each have their own personalities. And they don’t always get along. That’s the beauty of sticking seven women together when their husbands are competing for high-profile positions. It makes for some interesting dynamics and great conflict within the show.

The two feistiest wives are Louise Shepard and Trudy Cooper. They are both bold women who speak their minds, and they each want their husbands to be the first American man in space. Louise is cool and confident, but also snobbish, aloof and condescending. She’s the easiest wife to hate. But she is also a layered character who may surprise us. Her role is the most prominent in the pilot episode. Actress Dominique McElligott played her perfectly: stiff and starchy, a picture of perfection. But Louise’s life may not be as perfect as she’d like everyone to think.

Odette Annable was also fun to watch as Trudy Cooper, the feminist of the group, dreaming of her own goals, holding her husband to a high standard. She’s not about to cut him any slack. Though Cooper can also be brash and obnoxious, she has an earnestness and honesty to her at the same time (in private, at least). But she is holding a secret.

In fact, several of the women have secrets. And they better be careful because their lives are becoming very public. When “LIFE” magazine embarks on a campaign to feature the families of the astronauts, the women are at first hesitant to take the spotlight. But as they realize they can help their husbands’ success, they soon give in to life in front of the cameras.

Other wives to look out for in the pilot episode include the very blonde and fashionable Rene Carpenter (Yvonne Strahovski), who likes to steal the spotlight (and does it well); John Glenn’s wife Annie (Azure Parsons), a little ball of sweetness who smiles more than she talks; and the down home innocent Betty Grissom, played by JoAnna Garcia Swisher. As the weeks go on, we’ll get to know the other wives better, too. I thought each one was well cast and together they made a fascinating group.

In fact, the women’s dynamics are what set the stage for an interesting show. They are catty and competitive, but they also support and understand one another. They are unique individuals with many differences, but they’re also going through similar experiences that bring them closer, creating a camaraderie and a special bond between them. These women rally around their husbands but also begin to rally around each other.

The show is definitely geared toward women, and I think women will enjoy watching it. I certainly did. The series captures the excitement of the times over what the astronauts were accomplishing and the significance it held for the country. The wives embodied that sense of hope, along with American spirit and pride. They became an American symbol.

With the historical setting, you can also expect the show to deal with what a woman’s role was then and what it meant to be a “modern” wife at the beginning of the 1960s. No, the show doesn’t try to be “Mad Men.” But the era is interesting and they take advantage of the different norms and expectations of the time to show just how different things were.

The historical context comes into play visually, too. Old footage, pictures and news clippings are mixed in with pictures and footage of the actors – and it looks real. At one point you see John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy standing next to one of the astronaut couples on TV – the actors, not the real couple. They did a good job combining the real and the fictional. Sometimes you have to look twice to see if you’re watching the historical figures or the actors.

The fictional & real wives of the Mercury astronauts. Right photo by Ralph Morse, Time & Life Pictures, 1959, Getty.

I think this is going to be a fun show. I love the concept of featuring the women behind these important men. The wives are interesting in their own rights. I’m really looking forward to the entire 10-episode season. Whether or not you know the story of these astronauts and their wives, you can expect to be entertained while learning about an important part of U.S. history. I can already tell this is going to be one of my summer’s guilty pleasures. So join the crew cheering on “The Astronaut Wives Club.” This series is set to blast off!

“The Astronaut Wives Club” launches Thursday, Jun 18 at 8/7c on ABC.

How much are you looking forward to "The Astronaut Wives Club?" What sounds interesting to you about the show? Please head to the comments below and let us know your thoughts.

About the Author - Tonya Papanikolas
Tonya Papanikolas is an online, print and broadcast journalist who loves covering entertainment and television. She spent more than 10 years as a broadcast news anchor and reporter. Now she does everything from hosting to writing. She especially loves writing TV articles and reviews for SpoilerTV.

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