Okay, here's a good joke: what happens when you put two aging women together in the same room with their younger niece? One of them falls asleep from drinking too much alcohol while playing a game of cards. Actually, that's not a joke; it's just what happens regularly at the van Rhijn's estate in New York City.
The Gilded Age, which premiered on HBO Max on January 24 with its first episode clocking in at just under an hour and a half, is a slightly-campy look into the social power structures in place in late-1800s New York City.
Taking place in 1882, The Gilded Age follows two families: the van Rhijns and the Russells, who live across the street from one another at 61st street and 5th Avenue on the Upper East Side. There's an unspoken social war between the old and the new in the city, with the van Rhijns representing the old and the Russells on the new side. And by social war, I mean that people who associate with the "older money" side of things tend to not have much room for those on the "new money" side, as the old isn't as willing to embrace new change. This conflict manifests itself in glares from across the room, tons of gossip, and plenty of replies of "No" in the form of RSVPs.
The van Rhijns are helmed by sisters Agnes van Rhijn (Christine Baranski) and Ada Brook (Cynthia Nixon), who also had an estranged brother, though he recently passed away. His daughter, Marian (Louisa Jacobson), comes to live with them in New York now that her father is gone and has left her penniless. Making the long journey from Pennsylvania, Marian encounters quite a few hiccups on her 12-hour trip, though she finally arrives in the city in one piece.