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Showtime just canceled The First Lady after one season

Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford, Viola Davis as Michelle Obama and Gillian Anderson as Eleanor Roosevelt in The First Lady on Showtime
(Image credit: Showtime)

Sometimes a TV show sounds good on paper but doesn’t quite come together in the end, and that definitely seemed to be the case with The First Lady on Showtime. 

After a lukewarm reception from both critics and audiences, the anthology series has been officially canceled after just one season, reports Deadline (opens in new tab). Unfortunately, The First Lady will be moving out of the East Wing permanently after just 10 episodes. And there will be no second opportunity to sway public opinion for this drama show. 

“Showtime can confirm that the anthology series The First Lady will not be moving forward with another season,” said a network spokesperson. “We would like to applaud the artistry and commitment of our showrunner Cathy Schulman, director Susanne Bier, their fellow executive producers, our amazing cast — led by executive producer Viola Davis, Michelle Pfeiffer and Gillian Anderson — and our studio partner Lionsgate for their dedicated work in telling the unique stories of three remarkable leaders.”

What is The First Lady about?  

The First Lady portrays the highs and lows of various First Ladies of the United States, one of the most powerful and influential positions in the western world. 

The first season focused on three individuals: Eleanor Roosevelt (first lady between 1933 and 1945), Betty Ford (1974-1977) and Michelle Obama (2009-2017), and starred Gillian Anderson as Roosevelt, Michelle Pfeiffer as Ford and Viola Davis as Michelle Obama. 

As well as looking at the politics of these three charismatic and complex women, the show also explores their relationships with their respective husbands, and the impact holding office had on them as individuals. 

It’s a rare glimpse behind the curtain; after all, some of history’s most impactful and world-changing decisions have been made in the East Wing. 

What do critics say about The First Lady?  

The First Lady currently holds a disappointing 41% score on Rotten Tomatoes (opens in new tab), which indicates that critics were fairly unimpressed with the show. Its audience score is a little better, standing at 58%, but that still suggests that viewers weren’t totally won over either. 

The show’s inability to successfully weave together its three time periods was criticized by some reviewers. Amanda Whiting of The Independent (opens in new tab) claimed, “the plaiting of the three narratives occurs almost arbitrarily, with the stories converging only in the broadest strokes.”

The Chicago Sun-Times (opens in new tab)’ Richard Roper, meanwhile, labeled the show’s writing “clunky” and called the supporting cast “one-note caricatures.” Shirly Li of The Atlantic (opens in new tab) was similarly unimpressed, declaring “The First Lady is a barely thematically connected and carelessly staged summary of three fascinating figures. All of them deserved better.”

The lack of dramatic drive was also a problem for some critics. Case in point: Matthew Gilbert of The Boston Globe (opens in new tab), who wrote that “The message that these women overcame barriers is hammered home, so that their heroism is never in doubt, never challenged along the way. That’s no fun.” 

The Washington Post (opens in new tab)’s Inkoo Kang pointed out that while The First Lady “celebrates women who break the mold, the show itself is deeply — and dispiritingly — conventional. And Judy Berman of Time (opens in new tab) sums up the show’s wasted potential quite well, simply noting that “The First Lady could have been great.”

Davis, Pfeiffer and Anderson did receive praise for their highly committed performances, but even a central trio that has won dozens of awards between them wasn’t enough to make up for The First Lady’s various other faults. 

Analysis: Why did The First Lady get canceled? 

You might think that with its lukewarm reception from both critics and audiences, the writing was on the wall for The First Lady. But showrunner Cathy Schulman and director Susanne Bier seemed optimistic about a second season earlier this year. 

The duo talked up future first ladies the series could tackle, with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Hillary Clinton, Dolly Madison, Edith Wilson, Martha Washington, Rosalynn Carter and even Melania Trump all mentioned as possibilities. Unfortunately, any plans for a season two will need to be shelved, as The First Lady has now been unceremoniously booted out of office. 

If the disappointing reviews haven’t put you off, the complete first season of The First Lady is still available to watch on Showtime. Viewers in the U.K., meanwhile, can head over to Paramount Plus, where the show is currently streaming. 

Rory Mellon
Rory Mellon

Rory is a Deals Editor at Tom’s Guide based in the UK. He covers a wide range of topics but with a particular focus on deals, gaming and streaming. When he’s not scouring retailers for PS5 restock or writing hot takes on the latest gaming hardware and streaming shows, he can be found attending music festivals and being thoroughly disappointed by his terrible football team.