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  • David Zak

THE FIRST LADY takes a fresh look at heroic women.

THE FIRST LADY is a new look at three women who were pivotal to the history of our democracy - Michelle Obama, Betty Ford, and Eleanor Roosevelt. By making the political personal, the series provides an intimate and startling look at women who stepped up to the roles they do not covet.

My favorite storyline is that of Betty Ford, who is brilliant as played by Michelle Pfeiffer. In this telling, by Aaron Cooley, Mrs. Ford is thrilled that her husband is coming to the end of his long congressional career when fate intervenes. The series looks back at her aspiration to be a dancer and takes time to explore her first marriage, and her challenges with addiction. Her desire to be transparent about her medical history and challenges are clearly laid out in sublimated layers of tension with her husband who unexpectedly became president. But when Pfeiffer explodes after her husband pardons Nixon, the scene is powerful.

Gilliam Anderson as Eleanor Roosevelt is equally good, as she journeys from an unhappy childhood to the European school for women which molds much of her political and personal directions. Since these episodes are set farther back in history, they seem fresh, but not as crucial as the Ford story.

Much has been written about VIola Davis’ portrayal of Michelle Obama, and it does not seem like perfect casting. (Davis is a producer on the project.) The language of the Obamas seems harsh as the Obamas have been so protective of their image and their children. And the episode in which Obama's support for gay marriage is swayed by the opinion of the daughters seems a bit simplistic.

In carefully plotted episodes, we see how these three women anchor these presidencies and change the course of history because of their beliefs. We meet their parents and children, watch the date and dream, and quietly rebel against what is expected from them.

If you are a fan of history, this is must-see TV. If you don’t love politics, but still enjoy a good yarn, this is material that may leave you wanting to know more about three incredible women.

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