Review: The Gilded Age, are we having déjà vu?

Morgan Spector and Carrie Coon in The Gilded Age

The Gilded Age, from the creator of Downton Abbey’s Julian Fellowes, follows a consistent pattern he established with the earlier series. Rich and privileged people who employ a bevy of workers to support their lavish lifestyles. While the British series was all about class, the American series is all about money and how long a person has had it.

The Gilded Age puts the two opposing camps in the old vs. new money social order across the street from each other.

Christine Baranski, Cynthia Nixon, and Louisa Jacobson in The Gilded Age
The old social order represented by Christine Baranski

On the old money side is Agnes Van Rhijn (Christine Baranski), and her sister Ada Brook (Cynthia Nixon). Agnes is the snooty one, Ada is more understanding of what’s changing about life in New York City. Living with them is their destitute relative Marian Brook (Louisa Jacobson).

Louisa Jacobson and Denée Benton in The Gilded Age
My two favorite characters felt more real than all the others

Also in their house is Peggy Scott (Denée Benton), a woman Marian was rescued by at a train station. Marian brought her home and Agnes hired her as a secretary. Peggy wants to be a writer and manages to sell some articles to a Black-owned newspaper.

Across the street live the social climber Bertha Russell (Carrie Coon), her rich husband George Russell (Morgan Spector), and their children. Bertha is determined, ruthless, in her pursuit of penetrating the social upper crust of New York society as represented by the Astors or Agnes Van Rhijn.

Simon Jones, Debra Monk, Kristine Nielsen, Taylor Richardson, and Ben Ahlers in The Gilded Age
Butlers, ladies maids, cooks and footmen abound

We see into the downstairs staff of both households and get to know them as well.

The story is full of many characters, all of them engaged in various soapy plotlines that sometimes converge the upstairs crowd with the downstairs crowd. I had a problem getting involved in the storylines because I didn’t really care about what the characters cared about.

The theme of the series is very clear: money always triumphs in America. The country started off under this principle and it has remained so to this day.

The actors were wonderful, the costumes and settings are resplendent. The series is watchable but not outstanding. One of the most interesting facts about it to me was Salli Richardson-Whitfield’s involvement. She directed four episodes. She also was an executive producer.

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