Warning: Mild spoilers ahead!
Love fighting families, glamorous costumes and cameos from Tony Winning Actors? Then “The Gilded Age” on HBO is the show for you. Julian Fellowes, the producer of Downton Abbey, created the new series. Set in New York City in 1882, “The Gilded Age” showcases the tension created by new- versus old-money during this period in American history.
The cast features many well-renowned actors from the stage and screen, like Christine Baranski, Cynthia Nixon, Louisa Jacobson, Morgan Spector, Carrie Coon and Denée Benton. This cast is stacked, but perhaps too stacked with different cast members having plotlines every episode. It’s often overwhelming to track all the characters.
Even though the show feels a little spread thin, George and Bertha Russell shine through as the most compelling characters and relationship in the whole show. They have strong chemistry and are somewhat of an infamous power duo. Additionally, both Spector’s and Coon’s performances are captivating. Any scene with either one of them, or them together, will bring drama, flamboyance and mischievous plotting.
Another plot point that is intriguing is Peggy’s interest in journalism. Peggy is the only lead character that is Black in the show. I feel that it is nice to have a Black story in a show that could easily be extremely white. I also like that, unlike in Bridgerton, “The Gilded Age” attempts to tackle the conversation of racism during this time period head on. Still, I think the show could go further. Nearly every white character is ignorant rather than racist, and I feel like that is unrealistic. All the old money families that are extremely prejudiced towards the new-money-people seem to feel ambivalent about the presence of Black women. Despite this, I really enjoy that Peggy’s plot doesn’t revolve just around racism. She is working to be a well regarded Black female journalist and is able to share her opinions and thoughts on the events going on around her. It’s fun to have a period piece that shows a character usually kept out of narratives.
Besides having one black character, the show also features Oscar Van Rhijn played by Blake Kitson, who is secretly with another man, played by Claybourne Elder. Once again, the attempt to diversify the typical narrative of “The Gilded Age” is appreciated, but a bit understated. As there are so many characters, the show doesn’t really get into the two men’s relationship. Hopefully, the show will allow them to have a plot that is realistic but still prominent in the show.
Something else that I love about this show is the extravagant costuming and sets. I’m not a historian, so I’m unsure how accurate it is, but I think the costumes, especially Bertha Russell’s, are glamorous. The costumes and set are what make this show escapism, where the biggest issues for most characters are who is attending which charity event and with whom.
Overall, I recommend “The Gilded Age” to anyone that likes period pieces. I would, however, caution anyone with a short attention span and little desire to track a large cast to stay away from this series and watch something less busy. I’m excited for the direction this show is headed. I hope that with time, every prominent character will be allowed to go a little deeper, and perhaps other less important characters will fall back in the plot. You can watch “The Gilded Age” every Monday at 9 p.m. EST on HBO and HBO Max.