The Astronaut Wives Club: Is ABC's Space-Race Drama Outta This World?

Astronaut Wives Club Premiere Recap

First rule of The Astronaut Wives Club: Don’t talk about the crushing fear and loneliness you know as the spouse of one of America’s first space cowboys.

Second rule of The Astronaut Wives Club: When in doubt, don pearls and a little lipstick.

ABC’s 10-episode period drama, which premiered Thursday (8/7c), centers on the spouses of the Mercury Program astronauts and their part in the late ’50s/early ’60s scramble to put a man in space. Written by Stephanie Savage (Gossip Girl) and based on the book by Lily Koppel, the premiere focuses on the proper-to-a-fault, emotionally guarded Louise Shepard (played by Dominique McElligot, Hell on Wheels), husband to Alan Shepard (Desmond Harrington, Dexter).

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By the end of the hour, Alan becomes the first official American astronaut. But in an extended flashback to the two years before that, we watch the wives first encounter one another at a Life magazine-sponsored party for the future space cowboys. As the ladies size each other up, we meet them, too. A rundown of the other wives, in handy guide form:

• Rene “Rhymes With Peachy Keen” Carpenter (Yvonne Strahovski, Chuck): Wife of Scott Carpenter (Wilson Bethel, Hart of Dixie), a bubbly platinum blonde who doesn’t mind a little time in her husband’s spotlight
• Annie Glenn (Azure Parsons, Salem): Wife of John Glenn, rarely speaks because of her stutter
• Trudy Cooper (Odette Annable, House): Wife of Gordon Cooper, a pilot herself who dreams of becoming an astronaut someday; on the verge of a divorce from Gordon
• Betty Grissom (JoAnna Garcia Swisher, Once Upon a Time): Wife of Gus Grissom, a gee-whiz mother of two
• Marge Slayton (Erin Cummings, Detroit 1-8-7): Wife of Deke Slayton, a brassy broad with a mysterious footlocker full of kimonos
• Jo Schirra (Zoe Boyle, Downton Abbey): Wife of Wally Schirra, has kids… researches whether red or white wine goes with hot dogs? (Yeah, we don’t learn a lot about Jo in the premiere.)

As the seven men train for orbital spaceflight, their wives agree to give their exclusive story to Life, which means a reporter and photographer document their lives as they become “American royalty,” says NASA flack Dunk Pringle (Evan Handler, Californication). The publicity comes with perks — new cars, a nascent celebrityhood — which the women coo over. But when they surprise the men during a training session at Cape Canaveral, only to learn that the guys are carousing and hanging out with space floozies, it becomes clear that the story Life is selling is not necessarily the truth.

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Alan, for instance, can’t seem to keep his space belt buckled. And although that bothers Louise greatly, she steadfastly supports her man in his bid to be first. When he is chosen, right after the failed launch (and ghastly explosion) of an unmanned rocket, Louise rebuffs the ladies’ attempts to comfort her and turns down their offer to watch Alan’s launch with her.

So Louise watches with the Life reporter and her two daughters, and when the mission is a success, she nearly faints in relief. “Alan can never know I was scared,” she later tells the reporter. “No one can.”

With Alan back at Cape Canaveral working on the next step — NASA putting a man on the moon — Louise shows up at Trudy’s doorstep with an apology and winds up getting an informal party started. Eventually, the other wives join in, and the hour ends with some awkward dancing and the news that Betty’s Gus will be the next one to blast off.

The premiere’s sheer amount of exposition is a lot like those bulky rockets towed out to the landing pad: necessary, but not what we came to see. Introducing the ladies and their husbands takes a while, and some — like poor Jo — at this point are just sketches instead of fully realized characters. But the nine episodes left offer plenty of chances for sparklers like Strahovski, Garcia Swisher and Annable to do their ebullient thing, so we wouldn’t label this mission a flameout just yet.

Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the episode? Grade the premiere via the poll below, then back up your pick in the comments.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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39 Comments
  1. laurelnev says:

    Just not feeling this one…might give it a 2nd shot, but it’s just not grabbing me like WP did…

    • Martina says:

      I agree with you, didn’t take to any of the characters at all. I’ll try it again next week but if it doesn’t improve then I’m done.

    • Grey says:

      Agreed.

      I still think the gold standard for this story – whether from the POV of the astronauts, the wives, or NASA – is the movie “The Right Stuff.” And while this incarnation isn’t totally the *wrong stuff,* it’s still not quite up to snuff.

  2. Boiler says:

    Generally watch anything Joanna Garcia but sort of wish Motive was here

  3. ninamags says:

    I loved it!

    I guess I should know my space history better, but the actual astronaut stuff was suspenseful and tense. Reminded me of Apollo 13. Will definitely tune in next week.

  4. NP says:

    So is this only a miniseries? The season preview seems to go all the way through Apollo – seems like they’re missing out on a lot of good space drama by rushing so much

  5. Joni says:

    A bit predictable with the cheating husbands stuff. The only character that came across as likeable in the series premiere was Annie Glenn. Didn’t like Louise Shepard at all. Came across as a cross between cold and bitchy. I’ll come back for week 2 and then decide about week 3.

  6. Tarek says:

    A little confusing trying to introduce every character and establish their different personalities, but overall a good show with tons of potential.

  7. Bwhit says:

    I liked it. Hope to see more of Trudy’s story because I liked her the most. It was a bit confusing trying to figure out who was married to who but I’m sure it will get better as the episodes go on. Also, more Wilson Bethel please!

  8. Paloma says:

    meh. Too soapy for me.

    And I kept getting distracted by the spray tan Yvonne Strahovki was wearing and her hair color. ugh.

  9. James D says:

    I was very disappointment with this. Could only get through about ten minutes before i turned the channel i thought the characterizations of a pretty significant era in our history were trite one dimensional and completely uninteresting. Sorry I really wanted to like it the subject matter had me very intrigued as did the cast, maybe I’ll revisit it when it comes out on Netflix but I won’t be watching it.

  10. A.M says:

    Not too sure about this series, too much going on…Louise is very unlikable; I’m guessing they are trying to channel the Bree Vandekamp character from DH whereby she’s cold/bitchy but also very likable and relatable, I’m not sure that’s Louise though. Anyway it’s early days, will give it another shot next week

  11. Lisa says:

    I think it’s pretty good. I’ll watch again to see how it continues. The only negative to me was it went sort of fast forward through some of the story line but if they plan to cover the whole story in 9-10 episodes I guess it had to get right to it.

  12. LynnH says:

    I enjoyed parts of it and will keep watching. Max Kaplan is Luke Kirby from Rectify (Jon), right? I was only 3 years old when Shepard went up in the Freedom 7 but I do remember watching all of the missions on TV, starting at age 5 (1963) and how excited my whole family was everytime we went up in space. Through this show I’m reliving those thrills

    • Tenney says:

      You’re right! Luke Kirby is Jon from Rectify. I spent most of the show last night wondering where I saw him before because he looked so familiar. Thanks! And now I can’t wait for season 3 of Rectify.

  13. Aurelie Duffin says:

    This was an era when I was a high school student and I was very interested in watching whatever was put out about our men going into space. I never really knew anything about the wives and their families and it gave me a different idea of what these women went thru during the choosing of the first astronaut. I was very dishearting to know that the first man in space was such a woman chaser and he was even colder to his wife than she was show as. I didn’t think I would enjoy this show but truthfully it gave me a lot to think about of who the men in space really were like and I intend to watch the full series. Those were the days that were so many secrets about everyone and everything it makes you wonder what these women really went thru. I have two son-in-laws that are retired high ranking officers and they are really wonderful fathers and husbands and true to their rank as Officers.

  14. Jennifer says:

    I really didn’t care for it. To me they are trying to do another Army Wives show but with the wives of Astronauts. The show just didn’t grab my attention.

  15. Kathleen W says:

    I watched for the period clothes and the weird Jello moulds–what WAS all that about anyway? I kept having to pause to Google people. I found it really interesting.

  16. Ree says:

    I think it should have been a 2-hour introductory show. Too many characters for a 60 minute intro. I will stick with the show because I grew up during that era and have always been fascinated with the space race. Reading the book prior to watching the show was a big help for me. Last year when the filming began in New Orleans, the set designers bought a lot of vintage things at estate sales around the area to make sure the sets were as authentic as possible.

  17. Bonniew88 says:

    I lived in the sixties and these men were heroes and admired by all. Whether true or not, I dislike seeing their images tarnished. Drinking carousing cheaters is not the way I want to remember them. I won’t be watching again.

    • Jean says:

      I agree with you, totally. We need our heroes, and who knows how much is truth and how much is some writer’s fantasy. Anything goes for the bottom line.

  18. Neil Armstrong says:

    As a guy who was into the space race, I’ll watch it just for that factor, and probably nit-pick at the scientifically accuracy.

  19. Len Wirtanen says:

    I had high hopes for this show but was sorely disappointed by the pilot. It plodded along slowly and steadily but put me to sleep 10 minutes in the episode. If the producers aim was to help you get a good nights sleep, this show has succeeded with that objective. If it was to hold your attention and get you excited about the characters and the plot, it was a miserable failure. As I see it, if they do not triage this mess soon, it will be gone very, very quickly.

  20. Bill Adler says:

    I was there during this historic period. If the dancing looked weird, then welcome to the 60s. The gals’ dresses, the
    expressions, the cars, the newsreels, all good stuff. Looking forward to future episodes.

  21. Jaime says:

    I’m not ready for Wilson Bethel to play any character but Wade Kinsella. Even if he only spoke like three times in the pilot…

  22. HAP says:

    It was embarrassingly not engrossing. The show ended and I really didn’t care about any of the characters. Not coming back.

  23. I had to Google to find out of this was based on a book or something. I was pretty surprised to find out what a bunch of cheating jerks the men were and what a b*tch Shepard’s wife was. It doesn’t exactly portray these people in the best light.

    I get that the times were different and there was a very important Cold War space race happening and the lives of “important” men were VERY covered up by the media *cough*JFK*cough*, but I just can’t imagine the actual people this is based on being too pleased with how they’re portrayed.

    It would be interesting to get perspective or commentary from Annie Glenn or John Glenn. I believe Betty Grissom is still alive as well–and I hope they don’t intend to portray Gus as a coward.

    • Judy B. says:

      I read the book on which this series is based and so far the introduction is very similar to the information in the book. I didn’t think it was a bad start. My only problem is that I kept comparing it to The Right Stuff, both the book and the movie. As an undergrad, I did a paper on the space race. Scary times and much political pressure to succeed (remember this was the height of the cold war). I’m looking forward to the next episode.

  24. Olivia says:

    I’m on the fence about the show, but I couldn’t get past the fact of how skinny Desmond Harrington (Sheppard) is. Like a walking skeleton. I could hardly focus on his dialogue because I was afraid he would faint at any moment. Anyone know what it is? I figure the choices are anorexia, serious disease, or drug addiction–none of which I would wish on anyone. Someone, please make the man eat!

    • Anne Holford says:

      I agree. it’s driving me nuts. why in the world would he let himself get like that ! he looks like he’s going to die. he used to be handsome. it really looks like anorexia would look like in a man.

    • Mallory says:

      He definitely looks like he’s dying, he says that he’s healthy but looking malnourished, isn’t healthy. He looks creepy actually I’ve been watching limitless and his cheeks are all sucked in, if he’s sick he should say no comment he shouldn’t say that he looks how he should. Supposedly he lost 30 pounds, he needs to gain at least that must to stop looking like skeletor.

  25. graze says:

    I love love space exploration and history so I’m going to try and enjoy what they show about that instead of the soapy drama. I don’t want to see them cheapen one of the greatest eras of US accomplishment and bravery if most the screenplay is based on a little truth and lot of exaggeration. I was very little when they made it to the moon but always wanted to be a pilot a possibly an astronaut in the shuttle program thanks to these brave men and women. They made me like astrophysics.

  26. LK says:

    I like for its vintage flavor. Of course some characters are unlikable, some are cheaters, some are uptight and others ditzy or vampy – just like real life. No one is perfect, even our historical heroes; these astronauts were brave men who had wives who supported them, and great things were accomplished. I think its cool to explore the dangers and the excitement of the space program from the vantage point of the wives, from the fear they experienced to the press they had to endure. I’ll come back for more.