Awards Daily’s Megan McLachlan salutes FX’s Mrs. America, a real breadwinner in the Emmy Limited Series race.
One of the things that the Emmy Limited Series contenders have in common this season is their commentary on current events. Watchmen is a comic-book metaphor for modern race relations in America, The Plot Against America echoes our current political climate with a pseudo-Nazi in the White House, and then comes FX’s Mrs. America, which features a congregation of white women with influence in politics.
Women’s rights issues are always relevant, but I was struck by the importance of Phyllis Schlafly, whom the limited series centers around, when most recently a conservative female pundit in Pittsburgh went off on her radio show about how she was on the fence about whether the people dying from COVID-19 were worth saving over the health of our economy. Phyllis Schlafly, who died in 2016, is still alive and well in the United States, giving rise to many ignorant, opinionated white women today.
Cate Blanchett and the Mrs. America Cast
Which is why compared to the other contenders in the Limited Series category, Mrs. America looks to be the most palatable offering for Emmy voters, with its combination of relatable history (many voters probably lived through this) and its exemplary execution. Cate Blanchett stars as Phyllis Schlafly (“Two L’s”), a conservative from Peoria, Ill., who sets out to dismantle all of the progress around gender equality made by Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne), Shirley Chisholm (Uzo Aduba), Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman), and many other A-listers playing famous figures. (Just point at a name in this cast and you’ll find an Emmy winner.) Each episode includes a title that’s the name of the figure the episode focuses on (for example, the first episode is naturally “Phyllis”), but even if the focus is supposed to be on someone else, FX’s limited series always comes back home to Mrs. Schlafly, which is both one of its best qualities and its flaws.
For a series about the women who helped move the country forward, at times Gloria Steinem, who represents the leader of the American feminist movement, is a supporting player in this story. Blanchett takes up a lot of the screen time, and can you blame FX? If you have a two-time Academy Award winner, you’re gonna sure as hell give her something to do. If the only problem a limited series has is its obsession with Cate Blanchett, I’d say that’s a pretty good problem to have.
The scope of Mrs. America is impressive, with its inclusion of a variety of different aspects of being a woman in the 1970s, including being someone who’s forced to use her sexuality to be taken seriously (Steinem), being a black woman who wants to be more than a message (Chisholm), and being an aging feminist and divorced women (Friedan). The series also deals what it was like to be an unmarried woman of a certain age (a completely heartbreaking Jeanne Tripplehorn) as well as LGBTQA issues. Screenwriter Davhi Waller’s (Halt and Catch Fire, Mad Men) intent to make this an all-encompassing narrative is profound and carried out with care, considering how many story lines intersect in this nine-episode series.
No Revisionist Herstory
With a cast like this (didn’t even mention Elizabeth Banks, Ari Graynor, or Sarah Paulson—oh, and Margo Martindale), there isn’t a weak link in the bunch. It’s great to see Byrne return to her dramatic roots, and Tracey Ullman actually steals the show from Blanchett in the episode “Betty.” Blanchett of course delivers another steely housewife performance (think: Carol times Blue Jasmine), but it’s Ullman’s Betty Friedan who is the real revelation, cracking with emotion and age in a world she used to lead by the ear, but now views her as simply that old lady who had a book out 10 years ago.
Revisionist history is in right now, but what sets this series apart from others is its attempt to present the truth, with all of its makeup off. Even Phyllis Schlafly, the clear antagonist, gets an origin story. These women aren’t so-called Mary Sues, and there isn’t a sorority-like camaraderie among them, because each of them were fighting to survive in their own way, which really unites them all.
Outstanding Limited Series
Outstanding Limited Series Lead Actress (Cate Blanchett)
Outstanding Limited Series Supporting Actress (Tracey Ullman)
Outstanding Limited Series Supporting Actress (Rose Byrne)
Outstanding Direction in a Limited Series/TV Movie/Special
Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series/TV Movie/Special
Outstanding Main Title Design
Outstanding Casting for a Limited Series
Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative Period or Fantasy Program
Outstanding Limited Series Supporting Actress (Uzo Aduba)
Outstanding Limited Series Supporting Actress (Margo Martindale)
Outstanding Limited Series Supporting Actor (John Slattery)
Mrs. America airs on FX on Wednesdays and the next day on Hulu.
Megan McLachlan is a freelance writer that lives in Pittsburgh, PA. Her work has appeared in Buzzfeed, Cosmopolitan, The Cut, Paste, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Thrillist, and The Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @heydudemeg.