Series Review: Hollywood
Series created by Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan
Streaming on Netflix: 05.01
Last summer, Quentin Tarantino gave us Once Upon A Time . . . In Hollywood, and while I consider it to be one of his best films, I am still trying to sort out how to feel about the revisionist history finale. Now, if it seems impossible to believe that there is anyone out there with less subtle sensibilities than Tarantino, I have one word for you: Glee.
Television power duo Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan tackle the golden age of Tinseltown in Hollywood, a limited-run series which follows a group of aspiring actors and filmmakers as they try to make it on the silver screen. Jack Castello (David Corenswet) is a wannabe movie star who neglects his wife in order to stand outside the studio lot each day hoping to be picked as an extra. When he finds out that she is pregnant, he gets a job at a service station run by Ernie (Dylan McDermott), an aging former actor. As it turns out, the men at Ernie’s station are servicing more than just cars, and Jack goes along with it, unable to pass up the money. He then meets a colorful cast of characters, including Archie (Jeremy Pope), a gay black man who has written a screenplay that just might have the potential to be something special. Eventually, Archie’s script is greenlit, and the various characters are brought together by the project. Their tenacity and courage may just change a town, an industry and more, forever.
There’s a cavalcade of great performances, including Corenswelt, who has serious star potential, and especially stage great Joe Mantello as a sellout movie producer who has a crisis of conscience. Mantello lights up the screen, and I think I could be talked into watching anything he’s in from here on out. Prestige players like Patti Lupone, Holland Taylor and even Rob Reiner add greatly to the proceedings, with McDermott as a possible Emmy Nominee, and Mira Sorvino adding so much poignancy in her role that it’s almost heartbreaking to watch. But it’s Jim Parsons everyone will be talking about, and he sizzles with his portrayal of real-life agent-to-the-stars Henry Wilson, the tyrant who made Rock Hudson and Lana Turner.
This problem here is that this socially conscious vision of how Hollywood might have been and should have been—imagining barriers being broken down decades before their time—strains credibility beyond its breaking point. At times Hollywood makes it all look so easy that it’s backhandedly insulting to the real people who were prisoners of their time, almost as if it is judging them for supposed cowardice instead of honoring them. Some are also likely to be uncomfortable with the extent to which Wilson is allowed to redeem himself, and the implication that his abusive behavior stemmed from being forced to live in the closet is at best problematic, given the obvious comparison to Kevin Spacey.
Hollywood is a wildly entertaining ride, though it piles on the shocking and often coerced sexual content so unflinchingly in some episodes that it’s a bit much, even in the age when TV-MA reigns supreme. It’s also just too outrageously idealistic to be taken seriously, and this is coming from a critic who wears the the title of SJW as a badge of honor. In short, the only people being asked to swallow more than some of these characters is the audience. I can’t deny that I was swept up and quite moved by the show, but I rolled my eyes as often as I wiped them. –Patrick Gibbs