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The Governor’s Wife

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Since 2007, TV Club has dissected television episode by episode. Beginning this September, The A.V. Club will also step back to take a wider view in our new TV Reviews section. With pre-air reviews of new shows, returning favorites, and noteworthy finales, TV Reviews doesn’t replace TV Club—as usual, some shows will get the weekly treatment—but it adds a look at a bigger picture.

Pauline Kael once wrote of Burt Reynolds, “His charm is that of a cheap crook who ingratiates himself by saying, ‘Look, we’re all cheap crooks—why lie about it?’” Serving a record four terms as governor of Louisiana between 1972 and 1996, Edwin Edwards is the Burt Reynolds of politics. Other legendary Louisiana politicians, such as Huey Long and his brother Earl, may have been ethically challenged and have had peculiar ideas about the democratic process, but they also had grand ambitions and did some great things for the state. Edwards, who had the droll delivery of a Cajun Johnny Carson, used the power of his office to live the good life. When, in his last campaign, he ran against the neo-Nazi David Duke, supporters printed up bumper stickers reading, “Vote For The Crook. It’s Important.” His enduring legacy is encapsulated in the following quote, given prior to his re-election in 1983: “The only way I can lose this election is if I’m caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy.”

Edwards was in federal prison from 2002 to 2011, serving his time after a conviction on racketeering charges. A&E showed considerable restraint by waiting until his release to cast him in a reality show—albeit one that doesn’t center on the former lawmaker. The Governor’s Wife stars the 85-year-old Edwards’ 34-year-old wife of two years, Trina. Trina is the narrator of her own story, chattering about the storybook quality of her life and how cute it is that her in-laws are nuts; she comes across as a total airhead, but either she’s oblivious to this or wants the attention too much to care. (In the course of the first episode, she also performs a “very complicated, and very acrobatical” dance routine, and pops out of a cardboard cake at her husband’s surprise birthday party.) Edwin, who’s had enough of the spotlight to do him for a while, stays off to the side, contentedly playing lion in winter and occasionally dropping such Rat Pack witticisms as, “You’re only as young as the woman you feel.”

Also prominently featured are Edwards’ two daughters, Anna and Victoria, who are in their 60s. Of the two, Anna is presented as the more reasonable one, which means she waits until she’s alone with the camera to say, “At 34, you’re not supposed to be this crazy. That comes later.” Victoria, the troublemaker, couldn’t be a more broadly drawn cartoon of a frowny-faced relation from hell if Amy Sedaris played her. “I hate to bring this up,” she spits out at the dinner table, “but since most of our inheritance went to the federal government, now it’s gonna be split between four!?” Edwin, meanwhile, just keeps his head down and quietly tries to enjoy his dinner while everything is going to pot around him—an echo of his strategy when he was governor.

When Victoria isn’t calling her new stepmom a parasitic imbecile and telling the world that her breasts are not her own, she assures the camera that “Trina and I are not best friends, but I can pretend, obviously. I’ve been an actress for a very long time.” Nobody watches a show like this hoping for cinéma vérité, but The Governor’s Wife is the kind of reality show on which the question “How much do people mean what they say?” can be distracting. How much authentic ugliness is the show’s cast expressing, and putting up with, in the name of the show?

Like the documentary Queen Of Versailles, The Governor’s Wife is sad in ways that its onscreen participants couldn’t anticipate—the Edwards’ reveling looks so much chintzier than Trina seems to realize. The show also taps into a tradition that doesn’t function the way it used to: After Katrina and the lingering effects of an economic collapse (fed in part by disappointing returns on the massive New Orleans casino that was meant to be Edwards’ true legacy), Louisiana no longer celebrates the entertaining crookedness of its politicians. By trying to build a reality show on the dead ground of a discredited mythology, A&E has combined the worst of both worlds.

Created by: Shaun S. Sanghani
Starring: Trina Edwards, Edwin Edwards
Debuts: Sunday at 10 p.m. Eastern on A&E 
Format: Reality series
One episode watched for review

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