Superstar streaming series The First Lady ‘dead on arrival’

It’s probably a pretty hefty budget and one of the most impressive casts put together in a series. But it was enough to save him.

Three powerhouse cast doesn’t always translate into three powerhouse shows, and it definitely doesn’t always translate into a great series.

Despite a pile of talented stars and what seems like a sizeable production budget, streaming drama First Lady was dead on arrival.

What was supposed to be a star-studded prestigious series is flat and poorly structured – and even the presence of Pfeiffer’s luminous screen can’t save it. First Lady of itself, at least not in the first three episodes available for review.

This miniseries tells the stories of three prominent First Lady in American history – Michelle Obama (Viola Davis), Betty Ford (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Eleanor Roosevelt (Gillian Anderson).

The three intertwined narratives are supposed to create a larger tapestry of how these women influenced the course of political and cultural history, and the personal challenges each faced in exercising their influence and finding purpose in roles designed to be ceremonial.

As Eleanor puts it in the first episode when she gets annoyed at not being left out, “it’s not a job, it’s a situation”.

There is a dramatic tension in how each woman navigates the ominous environment of the White House, being in the spotlight but not expected to meet the needs of the government.

Eleanor’s sharp and instinctive political mind – her sharp wit was instrumental to her husband’s successful election – is tasked with redecorating and touring. And Michelle ended up fighting Barack’s team as well as media intrusion and slander.

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Given the familiarity of these two narratives, any dramatic tension that could be mined soon deflates as creator and co-author Aaron Cooley fails to dig deeper than the headlines and Wikipedia pages.

There’s no revelation in the two storylines – and especially if you’re going to dive into Michelle Obama’s recent history, it’s better to have something new to say. No depth of emotion, no sharp commentary and almost no entertainment.

It’s only on Pfeiffer’s, lesser-known (especially in Australia) Betty Ford section, does this series have life, and that’s largely down to Pfeiffer’s expert balance of Betty’s warmth with firecracker spirit.

As a political wife who did not expect her husband to hold the highest office in the US (Gerald Ford was appointed Vice President and then President when Spiro Agnew and later Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace), Betty’s coronation was swift.

She was belittled by the staff but her ability to connect with the public with her outspokenness about her mental health and breast cancer diagnosis, at a time when such things were not talked about, made her a quiet revolutionary.

Pfeiffer’s portrayal of this attractive woman is First Lady‘s one light shines, but because of the series’ frustrating structure, it is often fleeting.

First Lady jumping from character to character, with thin thematic threads between them, much like an episode that takes place mostly in flashbacks of how each of them met their husbands.

The series is too shallow to warrant a relationship, offering no outline of this unique office or the women who occupy it.

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On the rare occasions when a scene begins to interest you, the series spirals elsewhere, releasing any momentum.

Danish director Susanne Bier, who directed all the episodes, has been an inconsistent filmmaker. He was impressed with his 2006 film After the wedding and propulsive miniseries Night Managermastered the pitch of both projects, but dropped the ball with Bird Box. First Lady will not go down as one of his victories.

Of course, the trouble started with the writing and Cooley, a relatively new man with only one other script credit to his name, an unknown teen miniseries titled Best. Worst. Weekend. Once.really struggled to create a cohesive and dynamic story.

So even First LadyThe popular ensemble (which also includes a massive supporting cast such as Aya Cash, Judy Greer, Kate Mulgrew, Ellen Burstyn, Aaron Eckhart, OT Fagbenle, Kiefer Sutherland, Lily Rabe and Clea DuVall) couldn’t do much with the material.

Considering the cabal of onscreen talent, the only crew member who really brought the stuff was casting director Sarah Halley Finn, who is best known for staffing Marvel films and propelling the likes of Tom Hiddleston and Tom Holland onto the global stage.

But they’re all wasted in a lackluster miniseries whose good intentions can’t make up for its shallow and boring script.

The First Lady is on Paramount+ from Monday, April 18th

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