Having sat through the first two episodes of A&E’s new series, “The Governor’s Wife,” I have to give the producers credit for achieving something remarkable. They’ve actually managed to make one of the state’s most legendary political rogues seem, well, boring.
Yes, Edwin Edwards, four-term governor, gifted dealmaker, inveterate gambler, master quipster, ex-con, unapologetic ladies’ man and, above all, born performance artist, turns out to be a less-than-compelling television character. Who would have guessed?
Sure, Edwards cracks a few tired sex jokes, the ones his former constituents have heard a million times but that were obviously included to establish his identity with the national audience.
Right off the bat, we hear the one where the octogenarian groom explains his attraction to his 30-something third bride by noting that you’re “only as young as the woman you feel.”
With wife Trina’s quest to have Edwards’ child a major plot point, the couple also offers repeated riffs on the difference between getting pregnant the old-fashioned versus the newfangled way.
Spoiler alert: the Edwardses decide to go the in vitro route, using Edwin Edwards’ 20-year-old “baby gravy,” the existence of which, he implausibly claims, he had forgotten about.
As reality TV — a genre that, quite frankly, tends to drive me straight to the clicker — it all seems about par.
As a look at a towering figure in the state’s history, for those here in Louisiana who’ve followed his career and those across the country who might never have heard his name, it’s a bust.
The show is set up as a modern-day fairy tale, but it’s less “Cinderella” than “Brady Bunch.”
Rather than charming prince, the Edwards of this show is a befuddled patriarch who presides over a modern-day blended family of two sons and two daughters; the boys, whom Trina brought to the 2011 marriage, are teenagers, but the girls, Edwards’ daughters Anna and Victoria, are each over 60, old enough to be their stepmother’s mother and their stepbrothers’ grandmother. Instead of everything lining up just right, it’s all wrong.
Alert students of Louisiana political history will note that the first Edwards marriage also produced two sons: Stephen, who would go on to be one of his father’s co-defendants in the gambling corruption case that sent both to federal prison, and David. The only mention of their existence is Victoria’s complaint that Trina’s fertility plan would force her to share her inheritance more ways. What little the government didn’t take, she adds.
That, along with Edwards’ offhand quip about how he never had to decide what to wear in prison, is among the show’s few mentions of Edwards’ legal troubles.
There’s even less about his long career in politics.
Instead, he spends his screen time wondering why his computer router doesn’t work, arguing with his new wife about her tendency to leave on too many lights and ogling her as she dances in a skimpy sailor suit at a charity benefit or jumps out of a cake — facing the wrong way, to her stepdaughters’ open derision — at an 85th birthday party that could not possibly have been a surprise, given Trina Edwards’ lack of stealthiness.
Nor does the audience see any soul-searching over his decision to father a child at his age. It’s all about Trina’s teary quest to hold on to a piece of him after he’s gone.
During the hour, I found my mind wandering to other politicians whose behind-the-scenes stories might be more compelling, not one of whom has anything close to Edwards’ Cajun charm or comic timing.
Do Gov. Bobby Jindal and his wife, Supriya, fight over his frequent out-of-town trips to campaign for other candidates?
What do Rep. Charles Boustany and his friend, House Speaker John Boehner, really say about all those tea partyers behind closed doors? How often do Sen. Mary Landrieu and her brother, New Orleans Mayor Mitch, consult, and what happens when their political interests conflict?
The truth is that Louisiana politics remains as fascinating as it was back when Edwards cast a giant shadow over Baton Rouge. You’d just never know it from watching this show.
Stephanie Grace can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.