When I saw the previews for "The Astronauts Wives Club" were set to the Meghan Trainor song that goes "I know you lie cause your lips are moving," I just knew the new ABC show would set its sights on tearing down America's heroes by showing them in an unflattering light - and I was right.
The show focuses on the seven wives of NASA's original
Mercury astronauts during the height of the space race, when America was transfixed by exploration into the Final Frontier. The hour long series
premiere is a whirlwind, taking place over two years, from the time the group was selected in 1959 to
just after the first manned Mercury launch by Alan Shepard in 1961. Of the seven wives, Shepard's wife Louise is the focus, but she is stand-offish
to the other wives who try to rally together, and not really a likable character.
Somehow (thanks, public school system), I didn't know who Alan Shepard was but (thanks, ABC) now I know he was the first American in space - as well as a cheating jerk. It seems like in pretty much every scene he appears, Aln is getting too comfortable with another woman who is not his wife. Mercifully, considering how explicit other ABC shows get, the cheating is simply implied through body language like Alan grabbing a girl's hand and leading her off. I suppose we should be grateful we're not seeing graphic depictions of America's heroes in bed with other women - at least not yet, who knows where the series will go next.
When the wives surprise their men at a hotel, Louise tries to put up a good front when she catches Alan with his arm around another girl, but the other wives notice and comment on his cheating.
after a visit to the White House to meet the president to celebrate
Shepard's successful mission, Louise is so happy, she is jumping up and
down on the bed enjoying the moment. But Alan coldly tells her he's
leaving the hotel that night to head back to Cape Canaveral to work on
getting to the moon. In the next scene we see him picking up girls to
head to a party and encouraging other astronauts to come along.
Louise is portrayed as aloof and in denial, acting like she's better than everyone else, while her husband plays the arrogant womanizer. It is a shameful depiction of a deceased American hero and his loving wife. I can't imagine what the Shepard family thinks of how they're being represented.
"The Astronaut Wives Club" show is based on a book of the same name that claims to be a true story written with the input of many of the wives, but it's really just a gossipy beach read. The book says that Mrs. Shepard was nicknamed "Saint Louise" for putting up with her chronically philandering husband. But it also says that, of the 30 astronaut couples that went through the NASA space program, they were one of only seven that stayed together and didn't divorce, so we know she wasn't a source for the book, it's all based on sensationalized rumor.
Alan and Louise Shepard were married for 53 years before each passed away in 1998. Whatever private marital struggles they had are frankly none of our business and serve simply to detract from the accomplishments of the era. Every man has his flaws, but this seems to be an all too frequent Hollywood theme. They just love to unnecessarily knock our heroes off of their pedestals or, in this case, sent them plummeting back to earth.
There is a certain kind of danger to this. As living memory fades, historical fiction like "The Astronaut Wives Club" too often becomes accepted truth. For those like me, who don't come into the show knowing the true history of the space program, Alan Shepard and the other Mercury astronauts will be remembered more for being the cheating scumbags they are portrayed as on TV than for their incredible scientific achievements and how they inspired a nation during the Cold War.
For this, ABC does a disservice to not only the memory of the Mercury Seven, but also to the public's knowledge of this important era of American history.