The biggest challenge for Gaslit is how to tell a story about Watergate that isn’t the same as the abundance of TV and movies we have seen over the past 40+ years. My hats off to Gaslit, it has found a way in and not only does it feel fresh and unexplored (again, what a feat!), but it has also proven itself to be a damn fine TV show.
The approach taken to Gaslit is by way of Martha Mitchell. A high profile personality at the time, she had fallen into being an obscure trivia note until the podcast Slow Burn recently did a season dedicated to the socialite. Married to Nixon’s Attorney General John Mitchell, Martha was known to be loose-lipped and very friendly with journalists. So when she started listening in to her husband’s phone calls and told journalists about what was going on re: Watergate.
Julia Roberts is cast as Martha Mitchell and she’s just fantastic in the show. It’s probably just the period it is set in and the production style, but I got strong Charlie Wilson’s War vibes from her performance in this. That’s not a bad thing at all.
This is Roberts second TV series, her first being the really fantastic Sam Esmail-directed show Homecoming. Esmail is associated with this one too, on board as Executive Producer. Roberts is now two for two in regards to her TV work - both are great, substantive shows.
The weakest element of the show is her co-star. Sean Penn is covered in fat suit latex to play John Mitchell. There’s nothing at all wrong with his performance, but it is buried under the ridiculous-looking latex fat suit. At no point does the performance seem anything other than Julia Roberts performing next to a big ol’ blob of plastic.
The show isn’t all about Martha Mitchell. Also thrown into the mix are stories about the under-recognised Nixon Attorney turned witness John Dean and his soon-to-be wife Maureen Kane - this pairing is one of the real drawcards of the show anchored with charming performances by Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens and GLOW star Betty Gilpin. And then there’s a truly bonkers performance by Homecoming co-star Shea Wigham playing Watergate scandal chief architect G. Gordon Liddy.
Ultimately, this is a fairly safe and by-the-book style of adaptation. You’ll find strong performances, well-crafted scripting, and it is a solid to great production all-round. I’m not sure how much you’ll want to tell your friends to watch it, but it is a worthy addition to your weekly TV watchlist.
Gaslit is streaming now on Starz in the US and Stan in Australia.
[The review was written for the Screen Watching podcast. Find it in your favourite podcast app.]