Recovering from playing an iconic character on an iconic television show is never easy. Take Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander, whose professional life after George Costanza suffered greatly, even though he is a highly versatile actor, and whose real-life plight was turned into comedy gold in an episode of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Christina Hendricks' supporting role as Joan Holloway in Mad Men was as iconic a character as the show’s leads, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and Peggy Olsen (Elizabeth Moss) – and with good reason. Joan not only boasted a legendary aesthetic, but was a strong, knowing woman who understood the oppressive system in which she worked, and slowly but surely sought to bring it down from the inside.
She was as complex a supporting player as you’d find in a prestige drama – and her transition from an administrator who used sexuality as currency, to a no-bulls*** partner and eventual standalone business owner, was a delicious thing of catharsis.
Joan’s etching into the televisual hall of fame is partly why we haven’t seen as much of her post Mad Men. Her performance as a '50s–60s ‘broad’ was so lived-in and convincing that it was almost hard to imagine her existing in any other era. Thankfully, the new crime drama Tin Star has smashed that typecasting into oblivion. (Find out everything you need to know about the Tim Roth-starring binge-fest, here.)
The rocky road to Tin Star
Hendricks has actually been pretty busy since Mad Men. Her supporting stint as the cunning maid nicknamed Chair (!) in Another Period – an amalgamation of Downton Abbey, The Office and Kardashian-esque reality TV – was proof that her comedy chops were as well honed as her dramatic. Unfortunately, the clever show’s ratings in the States went from mediocre to abysmal, and the show was cancelled after three seasons.
Apart from a succession of TV guest spots and Indie features, Hendricks’ other regular role has been on Good Girls, an NBC dramedy. In it, she plays one of three women who’ve been screwed over by their partners, and who decide to rob a supermarket – an event that comes with all kinds of unexpected repercussions.
Once again, Hendricks was given the opportunity to show off her comedic skills. The show debuted in 2018 to lukewarm reviews. Since its second season, currently airing in the US, ratings have dipped, and a third season seems unlikely.
While both these shows demonstrated Hendricks’ lighter and more playful side, neither role was exactly complex. This made it difficult not to miss her Joan in Mad Men, as we knew she was capable of so much more.
Enter Tin Star.
As Elizabeth Bradshaw, Vice President of Stakeholder Relations for North Stream Oil, Christina Hendricks is showing us shades of characterisation that we’ve never seen from her before. Sure, Joan Holloway showed the occasional propensity for ruthlessness, but it was mostly levelled at fellow members of her oppressed gender. All in all, Joan Holloway was one of Mad Men’s rare heroes. But from the moment her villain schmoozes her way into Tin Star’s premiere, our nostalgia for Joan fades into the background.
Elizabeth Bradshaw is a force with which to be reckoned. She arrives in the sleepy Canadian Rocky Mountain town of Little Big Bear with one thing on her mind – satisfying corporate interests with the building of a new oil refinery. With unwavering confidence, unsettling warmth and steely resolve, she butts up against Tim Roth’s new and deeply troubled Police Chief – a man who’d intimidate the bejeezus out of most who cross his path. But not Elizabeth.
What makes her ruthlessness as a corporate executive for Big Oil more interesting is the fact that she once used to rail against such sketchy corporations, but has since had a change of heart. To make things more complicated, she rationalises that change of heart as the right move for not only her country, but also the Earth. Her performance is so nuanced that you initially can’t tell whether she truly believes her motivations are noble, or whether those warped convictions are a ruse.
Her villain sees no need to use her sexuality to get what she wants – and if anything, figuratively spits in the face of anyone who might suggest otherwise. She’s a three-dimensional antagonist whose motivations and true nature sink deeper into the grey area as the season progresses.
Don’t miss this addictive crime drama, if for no other reason than that, by the first season’s end, you can ask yourself: Joan who?