Mrs. America [9/10]

Do I patronize the viewing market when I offer the view that “Mrs. America” must be one of the more unappealing streaming series to emerge over the last year? Whenever I mention to friends that they simply must delve into this complex nine-episode history of America’s attempt to enact the Equal Rights Amendment over the 1970s, I see their eyes glaze over. When I began my journey through Mrs. America, I had zero knowledge about the battle between the feminist titans that emerged in the hippy 60s, headlined by Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, and relentless conservative Phyllis Schlafly (unheard of). After the first two episodes, I almost dropped out, chiefly because the subject matter seemed too arcane. But the series quickly gains momentum and becomes a riveting window into the times of Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan. The ERA, seeking to right myriad wrongs, needs 38 state ratifications to be tabled, and in the heady early seventies, that seems a gimme, but Schlafly, complicit with or manipulated by male politicians, proves too durable, and today it remains a paper monument. Each of the nine episodes ends up being a monument to a major or minor character, and the series is blessed with stunning performances: let me single out Cate Blanchett as Schlafly, Rose Byrne as Steinem, Margo Martindale as Bella Abzug, Tracey Ullman as Friedan, and Melanie Lynskey as conservative field worker Rosemary. Not knowing the history, that is, the climax of this stellar series, I was gripped as I approached the finale of Mrs. America. Highly recommended.

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