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‘Mrs. America,’ love it or leave it

Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly in the miniseries "Mrs. America."Sabrina Lantos/FX via AP

Q. I’m a bit surprised you lavished praise on “Mrs. America.” I thought it was a drawn-out cartoon, with far too much sympathy for Phyllis Schlafly. By the end, I was sick and tired of it.


A. You are not the first person to tell me they find the Hulu nine-parter unsatisfying — and worse. What can I say? I enjoyed and admired it, even while I, too, detected some cartoonishness here and there, perhaps at moments early in Rose Byrne’s turn as Gloria Steinem, that hair forever tucked inside those tinted aviator glasses.

Created and co-written by Dahvi Waller, “Mrs. America” is a highly ambitious period miniseries, as it tries to capture a movement and a counter-movement, while also giving viewers a good sense of the women involved on both sides. (“When We Rise,” ABC’s 2017 effort to document the history of LGBT rights, tried the same thing and was far less successful.) Additionally, and importantly, “Mrs. America” tries to deliver the kind of understanding and context that come with retrospect, just as Ryan Murphy’s “American Crime Story” seasons about O.J. Simpson and Andrew Cunanan did. “Mrs. America” isn’t only portraying the fight for and against the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s; it’s showing us some of the origins of the current state of conservative politics, with Schlafly’s gaslighting and the way she passively accepts the participation of white supremacists and extreme religious ideologists to bolster her mob.

I was mesmerized by Cate Blanchett’s performance as Schlafly. It’s the linchpin of the series, the one in-depth portrait among the broader turns by Byrne as Steinem, Tracey Ullman as Betty Friedan, Uzo Aduba as Shirley Chisholm, and Margo Martindale as Bella Abzug. The heavy gets the better story this time, for sure. Blanchett’s anti-“libber” is a complex creature, and “Mrs. America” tries to show us what made her tick, where her opportunism and fear-mongering came from. I suppose at times in the series that can look sympathetic — especially those moments when we see her victimized by the same patriarchal culture her opponents are trying to end, such as when she’s asked to take notes in a meeting with Barry Goldwater — but overall, Schlafly is not romanticized. For me, the scenes when she is bullied by men made her distaste for empowered women and her deep antipathy toward the ERA even harder to take. She is presented as a frustrated power-grabber out to scare people over to her way of thinking.




Have a question for Globe TV critic Matthew Gilbert? E-mail him at matthew.gilbert@globe.com.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.