BARNHART

Who's Who in FX on Hulu's Mrs. America

FX rounds up the usual embarrassment of riches for its latest miniseries.
  • Cate Blanchett, John Slattery and Uzo Aduba in FX on Hulu's Mrs. America. (Hulu)
    Cate Blanchett, John Slattery and Uzo Aduba in FX on Hulu's Mrs. America. (Hulu)
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    FX’s latest star-studded extravaganza, the historical miniseries Mrs. America, debuts this week on “FX on Hulu” — or as you and I call it, Hulu. This nine-part docudrama on the Equal Rights Amendment focuses on the women who supported and opposed it. Although the letters FX are plastered all over the show’s promotion, Mrs. America is not actually showing on FX for months. In order to watch it now, you’ll need access to Hulu (which, like FX, has become a Disney brand).

    Mrs. America is initially told through the eyes of the woman who did more than anyone else to shut the E.R.A. down, the conservative firebrand and organizer extraordinaire Phyllis Schlafly. It’s a storytelling twist worthy of Mad Men, where the show’s creator and showrunner Dahvi Waller made her name.

    As the story continues, it introduces the E.R.A.’s best-known proponents — Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm — which makes Mrs. America a good match for Hulu, still looking for something to satisfy all of those Handmaid’s Tale viewers.

    Filled with music, fashion, and other grooviness from the Late Sixties (technically the 1970s), Mrs. America is fun-to-watch soul sister history. Here are the faces you’ll see and where you’ve seen them before. I’ll have a full review tomorrow.

    Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly

    The casting of Blanchett tells you that you’re going to get more than a one-dimensional cartoon figure in the lead role. The two-time Oscar winner loves a good con-trow-ver-sy, as evidenced by her 2015 role as Dan Rather’s producer in Truth (opposite Robert Redford).

    Blanchett, an executive producer on Mrs. America, hasn’t been this deep in a miniseries since Bordertown for Australian TV. That 1990s production about the treatment of immigrants to Australia is a theme dear to Blanchett and is also the subject of Stateless, an upcoming six-parter from her production company Dirty Films.

    For all her high-mindedness, Blanchett doesn’t take herself too seriously. She’s been on Family Guy twice (once as the Queen), made a Documentary Now! episode and played a pregnant journalist covering Steve Zissou’s whimsical journey in the 2004 cult classic The Life Aquatic.

    Rose Byrne as Gloria Steinem

    Behind the big hair and Italian sunglasses, that’s Rose Byrne?? Yep. To fans of the FX series Damages, she’ll always be that freshly-minted law school graduate who gets an education in eating nails for breakfast from Glenn Close. Since then, Byrne has divided her time between thrillers (28 Weeks Later, I Am Mother) and lighter fare — opposite Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids and Spy, Seth Rogan in Neighbors and Louis C.K. in the film you will never, ever see, I Love You, Daddy.

    Margo Martindale as Bella Abzug

    As she did as drug-running matriarch Mags Bennett on Justified, for which she won an Emmy, character actress supreme Margo Martindale is once again handed a supporting role that is actually a backdoor lead in Mrs. America. A trained stage actress, Martindale had attention-getting roles in two Susan Sarandon films — Dead Man Walking and Lorenzo’s Oil — before landing on Broadway, that great feeder of high-end TV talent, in 2004 with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

    It’s remarkable to go through Martindale’s television work and see how much good stuff she’s done. She had recurring roles on Dexter and the underrated 100 Centre Street on A&E. The people who make and watch FX shows obviously love Martindale — in addition to Justified and Mrs. America, she’s played a nosy neighbor on The Riches and was outstanding as a KGB handler on The Americans. Mrs. America isn’t even her first feminist history turn — she was in HBO’s Iron-Jawed Angels, opposite Hilary Swank.

    Uzo Aduba as Shirley Chisholm

    Much of the early storytelling in Mrs. America is actually not devoted to the E.R.A. but the quixotic yet empowering 1972 presidential campaign of Congresswoman Chisholm, played by Aduba. She won Emmys in 2014 and 2015 for her role as Crazy Eyes in Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black. She’s done a lot for Netflix, appearing in Beats, Candy Jar, and Tallulah, and it says here she was also in My Little Pony, though I can’t personally confirm that.

    John Slattery as Fred Schlafly

    As acting gigs go, it’s hard to beat the one where you show up and play John Slattery. Although ostensibly the guy he's playing here is married to Blanchett’s Phyllis Schlafly, Slattery's job here is to toss off amiable one-liners, punctuated by occasional arguments where he tosses off angry one-liners — just like he did as Roger Sterling on Mad Men and in many other roles. Slattery, whom I first saw in a terrific little sitcom on Lifetime opposite Ann Cusack called Maggie, will be starring as a tech entrepreneur in the upcoming privacy thriller for Fox called NEXT.

    Tracey Ullman as Betty Freidan

    Years ago I realized Tracey Ullman could do anything. The woman whose one-woman sketch show was responsible for launching The Simpsons is still going strong in her sixties, as evidenced by her part here as the revered but often-marginalized radical feminist Betty Freidan. Her Tracey Takes On … series for HBO was a much better showcase for her talent than her self-named Fox show. She followed that up with a more satirical sketch series, State of the Union for Showtime, which she revived on the BBC as Tracey Ullman’s Show. She played Robin’s mom on How I Met Your Mother but otherwise has been away in recent years making British TV and doing stage plays.

    Sarah Paulson as Alice Macray

    Phyllis Schlafly’s best friend and right hand in the stop-E.R.A. movement is played by FX regular and fan favorite Paulson, who made her impressive TV debut in Aaron Sorkin’s otherwise unimpressive Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. FX has used Paulson heavily in its “American _____ Story” franchises: an Emmy-winning role as Marcia Clark in The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story; several seasons of American Horror Story; and playing Linda Tripp in the upcoming Clinton-era look back, American Impeachment Story.

    Elizabeth Banks as Jill Ruckelshaus

    Playing the sore-thumb Republican woman in the E.R.A. movement is Banks, whom you’ve mostly seen in guest roles on comedies: Scrubs, 30 Rock, Modern Family, Wet Hot American Summer, Pitch Perfect and Pitch Perfect 2 (which she directed), Magic Mike XXL, and the LEGO movies. Banks also co-created Hulu’s Shrill with Aidy Bryant; it’s been picked up for Season 3.

    Jeanne Tripplehorn as Eleanor Schlafly

    Fred’s sister is played by Jeanne Tripplehorn, who co-starred in HBO’s Big Love for five seasons. In the film world, she played Tom Cruise's wife in The Firm. And let's not forget her part in the infamous Kevin Costner epic Waterworld. She was also awesome as Jackie Kennedy in Grey Gardens, also on HBO.

    Niecy Nash as Flo Kennedy

    Next week’s fourth episode of Mrs. America is built around Niecy Nash’s character, an attorney who serves as the go-between during a tense time between her friends Gloria Steinem and Shirley Chisholm. Nash broke out as one of the stars of Reno 911! and briefly had a terrible sitcom on Fox. More recently she’s enjoyed meaty roles in Netflix’s When They See Us (about the Central Park Five case) and the upcoming Lifetime biopic The Kamiyah Mobley Story. She hosted Clean House on the Style Network and was nominated for two Emmys for HBO’s Getting On.

    The first three episodes of Mrs. America drop on Hulu April 15th, with a new episode every Wednesday through May 22.

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    Aaron Barnhart has written about television since 1994, including 15 years as TV critic for the Kansas City Star.

    TOPICS: Mrs. America, FX on Hulu, Mad Men, Cate Blanchett , Elizabeth Banks, Jeanne Tripplehorn, John Slattery, Margo Martindale, Niecy Nash, Rose Byrne, Sarah Paulson, Tracey Ullman, Uzo Aduba