Squawk Box: The Right Stuff/Bridgerton


 I didn't really know how to feel about the Disney+ version of The Right Stuff. My initial reaction was: "...but why?" and really, can you blame me? I mean the 1983 film is a classic- Sam Shepherd as Chuck Yeager? That whole opening sequence of him breaking the sound barrier? The rest of the cast of the movie: Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, Lance Henriksen, Dennis Quaid, Barbara Hershey, Veronica Cartwright? Incredible! Plus, my memory of The Right Stuff involved watching it in science class in high school and the science teachers were cool enough not to be scandalized and fast forward through the Sally Rand fan dancing sequence (at least I don't think they fast forwarded through all of it) which was totally educational, I swear.

In short, this concept felt like: "Let's remake Lawrence of Arabia and turn it into an 8 episode mini-series and put it on Disney+" it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense, but happily, if you're into the early history of the space program- and a portrayal of it that's remarkable free of nostalgia and rose-colored glasses, then National Geographic and Disney+ can say mission accomplished on this one, because I loved the movie and I loved the show as well.

The show flashes back from the preparations for Alan Shepard's launch to 1959, when the then fledgling organization NASA, headed by Bob Gilruth (Patrick Fischler) begins to search through test pilots and role models from across the country to find America's first astronauts. Alan Shepard (Jake McDorman) and John Glenn (Patrick J. Adams) quickly begin to compete for top spot and Gordo Cooper (Colin O'Donoghue) asks his estranged wife Trudy (Eloise Mumford) to reconcile so he can have the best shot possible at beig accepted into the program-- and after a winnowing process, 108 candidates get cut down to seven- which along with Glenn, Shepard and Cooper included Gus Grisson (Michael Trotter), Wally Schirra (Aaron Staton), Scott Carpenter (James Lafferty) and Deke Slayton (Micah Stock.)

Then the show is off and running: the Mercury Seven tour America to promote the space program and gain funding from Congress-  Glenn is more used to the spotlight than the others and after Cooper punches a reporter, Glenn gets everyone an agent to manage the PR and everyone gets their life stories printed in Life Magazine in exchange for a hefty payment. Shepard finds other perks of celebrity to enjoy (like almost free expensive cars) and the real fault line of the show is exposed: the rivalry between Shepard and Glenn.

What the show gets right that the movie doesn't is actually interesting: in real life Shepard did have Meniere's Disease which can lead to crippling vertigo and he struggles with ringing in his ear and dizziness that effects his performance. There's also a lot more tension in the Cooper marriage- whereas in the movie, it seems to be portrayed more as "Trudy can't take that he's a test pilot anymore"-- here, Trudy has aspirations for flying herself and when female aviator Jerrie Cobb (Mamie Gummer) comes along to try and promote six more astronauts- all women- to make a 'Mercury 13', she wants Trudy to be one of them as well. (I guess the plan is to go all the way to the moon landing with this show- so I'm hoping they explore the back-asswards relationship the American space program has with women a lot more and how ridiculous it was that the Soviets sent a woman to space decades before America ever did.)

The rivalry between Glenn and Shepard intensifies as the show goes on-- to the point where after Shepard has an indiscretion in Tijuana that Glenn helps him hush up, Glenn goes so far as to write letters to NASA outing Shepard with the goal of making sure that he's not the first one chosen to go into space- but NASA flips the script on the rivalry and informs the seven the order is going to be determined by the pilots themselves. So, they vote and Shepard gets the spot- the season eventually culminates with President Kennedy announcing they're going to go the moon and Shepard making the first successful flight into space- but returning to confess to Glenn that the shortness and simplicity of it left him dissatisfied and he's looking for the next big thing.

Overall: This grew on me and I think that's down to the fact that Jake McDoman and Patrick J. Adams bounce off each other pefectly as Alan Shepard and John Glenn- though it is a little jarring to see Adams not, you know, in a suit (which also provided me the helpful reminder that I need to finish Suits at some point.) While the movie still has some pluses to me, I think the change in format allows for more exploration of the human drama behind the history of it all and I'm really hoping they just keep this show going right through the moon landing, because gosh darn it- I want more. My Grade: **** out of ****

Bridgerton, in contrast couldn't be further from The Right Stuff if it tried. Based off the novels by Julia
Quinn, it's a period piece set in Regency-era London and produced by none other than Shonda Rhimes herself. I will be honest: the Missus and I burned through Virgin River pretty quickly and that was decent. It's not really my type of show to begin with, but I was entertained by Virgin River enough to pay attention to it. Bridgerton, by contrast, had me hooked from the very beginning. (A co-worker of mine cannot stand this show and thinks it's very 'CW' and I'll admit, there's is a sort of, 'Pride and Prejudice meets Gossip Girl' air hanging over this- but it didn't bother me a bit.)

In the spring of 1813, households are preparing for the kick off of the social season where eligible young ladies make their debuts and search for marriages to make. The three Featherington Sisters: Philippa (Harriet Cains), Prudence (Bessie Carter) and Penelope (Nicola Coughlan) are presented to Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) along with the eldest Bridgerton daughter, Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) who wins the approval of the Queen and an edge in the early going of the social season. There's also a new scandal sheet, written by the mysterious Lady Whistledown (voiced by Julie Andrews) that's the talk of the town along with the return of Simon Basset (Rege-Jean Page) the new Duke of Hastings, who has returned to London to see to the affairs of his late father and is pressured into joining the social season by his confidante and mentor, the Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh). 

Despite the approval of the Queen, Daphne's eldest brother Anthony (Jonathan Bailey) scares off most all suitors for his sister save for the detestable Lord Berbrooke (Jamie Beamish)- but a new arrival in the Featherington House, Miss Marina Thompson (Ruby Barker) upstages Daphne, much to the happiness of Lady Whistledown and the displeasure of the Queen-- though Miss Thompson, it appears has a secret of her own. Both finding themselves annoyed- Simon with the hoards of suitors and aunts and mothers trying to set him up and Daphne with the lack of attention by anyone other than Lord Berbrooke, the two hatch a scheme to pretend to court, thus giving Simon some peace and quiet and Daphne should get some more interest. 

The scheme more or less works, but of course the danger with throwing a dashing and handsome rake together with a beautiful and eligible young woman is blindingly obvious- and yet the show is charming enough that save for a truly frustrating plot point in the back half of the season- that I won't reveal but is eventually worked out once the Duke pulls his head out of his ass- this is massively entertaining- I don't know if I'd go so far as to say captivating- but the sort of sexual tension of a look and a gentle touch gets built up over the course of the first few episodes that when it finally erupts into a geyser- well, I'm a dude and I'm not usually one to get carried away in how hot stuff is, but goddamn... it was enough to give me a mild case of the vapors. 

I really can't give much more away without ruining the show- but needless to say the Bridgertons are a large family and apart from the youngest siblings, everyone gets some a plot point of two to explore. And while a lot of this may seem to the more cynical viewer to be an extra helping of cheese and romance, the only thing I can say to that is: who doesn't love cheese? I will happily take an extra helping of this show as soon as possible. My Grade: **** out of ****

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