For your Euro TV viewing this weekend, I highly recommend the award-winning Russian drama An Ordinary Woman (Obychnaya zhenshchina).
An Ordinary Woman, which premiered in the US this past Thursday, follows Marina Lavrova (multi Best Actress awards winner Anna Mikhalkova, The Icebreaker, Sky Court, Godunov) — a wife and mother of two daughters and the proprietor of a small flower shop living a seemingly ordinary, middle-class life in an apartment in Moscow with her family.
In many ways, Marina is your average Muscovite living a pretty pedestrian life: She needs to pick up her younger daughter from school; she tries to be patient with her pain of a mother-in-law; and she is over being made out to be the bad guy by her children when her husband says yes to the same request she denied moments earlier.
But Marina is anything but ordinary as she is actually living a double life — a working wife and mother in one, and in the other a madam running a lucrative sex-for-hire business with a cadre of call girls in the city.
Within the span of 24 hours, things start to go sideways for Marina as well as for her family members, her money-making business, and a smattering of other folks — and situations get worse before they get better, if they get better (with better being relative to absolute disaster). A pregnant Marina and her surgeon husband, Artem, learn there might be health issues with their unborn baby. Artem finds out from his mistress, surgical nurse Nika, that he’s her baby daddy. Katya, his and Marina’s feisty and rebellious teenage daughter, gets herself and her boyfriend, Petya, in trouble over a scooter. And after discovering that money is missing at her flower shop, and then interviewing the virginal Zhenya as a possible sex worker, Marina gets an urgent call from Galina, a beautiful but not-so-swift hotel front desk employee who is in cahoots with the madam: Sveta, one of Marina’s popular girls, is dead, a victim of what appears to be murder.
Marina is made of pretty stern stuff, and we get to see the range of her problem-solving skills as she begins to deal the issue of her dead sex worker without involving the police and exposing herself as the victim’s pimp. What Marina doesn’t know yet is that, in the aftermath of Sveta’s death, she will have a much more complicated and dangerous situation on her hands — one involving violent criminals, corrupt cops, and an alcoholic, dog-on-a-bone detective on a mission.
Meanwhile, Marina’s family is in turmoil. Being forced to deal with an increasing array of Sveta-related issues means Marina is rarely home before nighttime, leaving Antonina, Artem’s interfering, disapproving, yet still obliging mother, to be the day-to-day caretaker for Tanya, the couple’s younger daughter, who is troubled by the prospect of a baby brother. Katya, who is aching for freedom from her mother, is forced to come up with a heap of money that won’t go toward a deposit on an apartment. And Artem’s secret gets found out and he must deal with the repercussions.
Before all is said and done (for now), we learn Marina’s backstory — from how she got into the sex services business and why hers doesn’t involve a brothel, to the role she played in Artem’s affair with Nika. Then, when Marina begins to realize the impact of her recent actions and absences on her family and tries to right things, she finds herself on the hook for another murder, one that hasn’t happened yet but must…
An Ordinary Woman has been compared to Breaking Bad, but since I am one of the handful of people in the Western Hemisphere who’s never seen the latter (and a bunch of other shows that dominate pop culture conversations), I’ll just roll with it.
Having watched the entire first season of An Ordinary Woman, I can say this series has plenty going for it to make it a worthwhile watch. The story is compelling — from the mystery of who killed Sveta and the theme of police corruption that gets played out in most of the show’s threads, to the series of Murphy’s Law, anything-that-can-go-wrong-will-go-wrong events in Marina’s life and the dark humor that runs throughout the series. The richness of the narrative is given by the female characters who front the series, as their stories reveal the needs, the desires, and the fears that motivate their actions. Marina’s story in particular illustrates a figurative blindness that can occur in one area of life when one is in the weeds of another. Marina is certainly an intriguing character, and her relationship with Galina is the most engaging in the series — part heroine and sidekick, part mentor and mentee, with a hint of Geraldine and Alice from The Vicar of Dibley, only secular.
Costars in the nine-episode first season include Yuliya Melikhova (Hope) as Galina; Evgeniy Grishkovets (The Stroll) as Artem; Tatyana Dogileva (Afghan Breakdown) as Antonina; Elizaveta Kononova (How I Became Russian) as Katya; Arina Rusu as Tanya; Aleksandra Bortich (The Soul Conductor) as Zhenya; Alexandr Sudarev (Tolstaya) as Petya; Mariya Andreeva (Sophia) as Nika; Darya Saveleva (The Red Band Society) as Vera, the detective; Nikolay Shrayber (Sophia) as Max, Vera’s partner; Aglaya Tarasova (Tanks for Stalin) as Sveta; and Daniil Vorobyov (Riviera) as Sveta’s boyfriend, Misha.
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