From the creator of Downton Abbey‘s Julian Fellowes comes The Gilded Age on HBO. As a fan of period dramas, specifically regency romance, I was curious to check out The Gilded Age. I should branch out from Regency England every once in a while, and four episodes in so far, I am glad I did.
There is a lot to appreciate in this show, and here are five reasons why we’re watching!
1. The Costumes
While it might be a superficial reason to watch, the costumes are gorgeous! I’ve always liked late 19th-century fashion, and Kasia Walicka-Maimone does a fabulous job bringing color and life to The Gilded Age. From the looks of High Society to the maids, everything shown so far looks beautiful. They are intricately designed with great details, making them works of art. I also love the headpieces and kind of wish they were still a thing now.
2. The Sets
The sets stood out to me during episode one. I always enjoy some good set design, and the feel of a space gives more insight into the characters. The van Rhijn’s are a family with old money who’ve been in America for quite some time. Their house is passed down through generations and is a well-lived-in space.
With its darker color palette, it feels like there is more history within these walls rather than across the street with the Russell’s freshly built palace. While the Russell’s decor looks like it came from 18th century France with the Rococo influence, there is something off. It is a vast space built to show off their wealth to the other incredibly wealthy people of New York. It is over the top, much like the Bertha (Carrie Coon) and George Russell (Morgan Spector), trying to fit in while outdoing everyone else.
3. New York in the 1880s
I appreciate that The Gilded Age does not shy away from the darker themes of society during this time, including classism and racism. In the latest episode, “A Long Ladder,” we see Peggy (Denée Benton) confront Marian (Louisa Jacobson) about the fact that they live in two different worlds after Marian brought Peggy’s family a pair of used shoes. Meanwhile, Peggy’s family does not need charity, being part of the rarely spoken about Black elite. Marian had made the wrong assumption that because they are Black, they would be struggling. That is made even worse by the fact that Peggy was the one to lend Marian money to buy a train ticket in the first episode, which Peggy rightfully calls her out for.
4. The Characters
The characters are fascinating. They are a group of complex and interesting people, fleshing out the world of The Gilded Age. Bertha Russell is trying to get accepted into polite society. Her husband, George Russell’s new money, taints their family’s status amongst the ultra-rich. Bertha is snubbed almost daily and definitely takes things a little too far, but I can’t say I don’t understand her reasoning.
The younger generation of Russell’s and van Rhijn’s, including Marian are much more open to each other. It is interesting to see Marian’s approach to the new people she meets. Much to her aunt’s displeasure, she has an open mind and heart, though misguided as she can be at times. And there is the fabulous Christine Baranski as Agnes van Rhijn. She is a strict matriarch and takes polite society a little too seriously, but you can tell she does want the best for her family. All the characters have a lot of potential for growth, and I am excited to watch that growth happen.
5. The New vs Old
The main conflict of The Gilded Age is the divide between new and old money. It is interesting to see how society is split between the two, especially with how that divide never really disappeared. And while it is fascinating, it is also frustrating and ridiculous. Here are all of these people with insane amounts of money, but because someone recently came into their fortune or is new to New York, they are unworthy of being accepted into certain social spheres in the eyes of polite society.
The Gilded Age is an immersive series with a lot to recommend itself. One thing that is missing for me right now is a good ship. (I am hoping there will be a relationship for me to add to this list as time goes by.) While I like Tom Raikes (Thomas Cocquerel), I don’t love his relationship with Marian just yet. I’m intrigued to see where this show goes and am looking forward to the next episodes!
Have you watched The Gilded Age yet? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.