American Woman Recap: Commercial Success

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Photo: Paramount Network
American Woman

American Woman

The Cost of Living Season 1 Episode 4
Editor's Rating 3 stars

Knowing that this is a series based on the life of Real Housewife of Beverly Hills Kyle Richards’s mother, we all knew the part where she becomes a stage mom would come sooner or later. From the remembrances we hear from Kyle and her sister Kim, both of whom were working child actors in the ‘70s, on their reality show their mother sounds like a mixture of Momma Rose from Gypsy and Mama Fratelli from The Goonies. The picture presented here is a whole lot more interesting.

The episode starts with Bonnie enjoying her life as a single mother, getting up, getting the kids to school, and getting to work on time. Then she sees the tuition bill is overdue. Then she sees they’re out of milk for cereal and she has to pour orange juice into the kids’ Wheaties. Then the dryer breaks and she’s drying the girls’ sweater sets in her bathroom with the hair dryer.

When payday comes, it’s little relief because she only gets to bring home $54 dollars to feed and clothe her children for the next week. Her jerkface boss is no help and he denies her any overtime. To make it worse, the kids are starting to resent her for depositing them at Aunt Kathleen’s casting agency every day after school so she doesn’t have to pay a babysitter. We all know exactly where this is going.

Kathleen and her gay boyfriend Greg are struggling through casting an orange-juice commercial. They can’t find a girl who is cute and sweet enough and also acts to please the client. When all the girls are gone, that’s when Kathleen discovers little Jessica playing in the waiting room pretending to be the gross women who feeds the pigeons in Mary Poppins. No one wants to play her. Not even that weird kid in your grammar school would play her in the class production of the musical. They would just leave that part out because the pigeon lady is scuzzy and weird.

Anyway, Jessica books the gig because this is television and it was bound to happen. When Kathleen tells her the news and asks her permission, Bonnie has mixed emotions about it. Oddly enough, no one talks about money the whole time. Jessica doesn’t talk about the paycheck she’s going to get, Kathleen doesn’t bring up that the cash-strapped house will get some funds, and Bonnie doesn’t even think about the potential bonanza. How odd.

Of course they were waiting to reveal it later at the weird dinner party at Kathleen’s house. The way that Bonnie is treating her job as a momager is so far the most interesting thing about the show. It would be so easy to paint her as the classic stage mother, the one who craved fame and is now forcing her children who don’t want to act to be famous in her stead. What we’re seeing here is a much more ambivalent portrait.

When Bonnie takes Jessica to the set, she tells her to behave professionally, to look everyone in the eye and shake their hands. Bonnie actually says she’ll pay her a nickel for everyone she talks to. Hey, if I got paid to network like that I would go to all the alumni functions and professional happy hours I could find. Basically she’s setting Jessica up to be the perfect little child star just by teaching her some decent manners and business savvy.

However, then she opens the check and sees that Jessica brought in $350 bucks for one day of work, seven times what she brought home in a week. Kathleen says, in passing, “If she keeps this up, you can quit your job!” Bonnie delivers the withering line, “Then when I run out of money I can ask my daughter to raise my allowance.” Sick burn. Later, when she’s drunkenly berating Kathleen for getting her kid involved in this she thanks them for “teaching my daughter what it’s like to work for a living,” at such a tender age.

That doesn’t keep Bonnie from cashing that check and using it to get out of debt with the school and pay to have her dryer fixed. She even gets to tell the principal of the school where to stick the check which, if this were a MasterCard commercial, would be priceless. Still this push and pull between Bonnie being an independent woman but also needing to rely on her kids to make money is a fascinating look at this classic story of a woman gaining independence after divorcing her cheating husband. I wish we had gotten to this point by episode two!

As for Kathleen, it’s getting harder for her with her boyfriend Greg. He runs into his old friend Alan on the sidewalk and, of course, we all know that this guy is as gay as Cristiano Ronaldo’s underwear drawer. Even a half-blind old woman at 50 paces could tell which team this guy plays for. (In this metaphor it’s apparently the Portuguese World Cup team?) Kathleen has no idea this guy is gayer than dancing to Kylie Minogue at a Fire Island tea dance and not only invites him to dinner but tries to set him up with sad-sack Diana. When Alan arrives for dinner, he asks Greg just what his intentions are with Kathleen while grinding their junk together in the rec room. Kathleen, you in danger girl!

My favorite part of the whole series though is Diana. I love how everyone is just cutting on her all the time about how her job is boring, how she doesn’t have a man, and how she is probably the least interesting woman in the world. They should make a beer commercial about that. I like that this week we got to see a bit more of a human side to her. After her disastrous setup with an obvious homosexual, she comes home to her judging and awful mother who just wants her to meet a man and settle down. I like that this show isn’t just about rising above the ways that men oppress women but the ways that women oppress each other as well. In Diana’s case, the patriarchy is coming from inside the house.

The interesting thing about American Woman is that it disguises itself as this slight sitcom but just beneath the surface there is a whole lot of interesting stuff going on, like with Kathleen’s attitude about her new life and Diana facing off against her mother. There are the things I want to see more of. Well those, designer caftans, and hot guys grinding their junk in rec rooms. All of that stuff.

American Woman Recap: Commercial Success