Celebrated show creator and producer Ryan Murphy has unleashed his second project for Netflix, “Hollywood.” In classic Murphy fashion, there is a whole lot of plot, sex, mildly confusing social messaging and hot, talented actors onscreen.
Murphy teamed up with frequent collaborator Ian Brennen (“Glee,” “Scream Queens,” “The Politician”) to conceive this dramatic miniseries. “Hollywood” is focused on the post-World War II era of the film studio system. It focuses on the creation of a fictional film, “Meg,” which is itself about how Hollywood can destroy a person. The show has many fundamental flaws — pacing, plot ideas, overly optimistic resolutions and some truly awful dialogue — but the wonderful production design, cinematography and acting deliver a fully bingeable seven-episode arc.
Murphy fans will recognize many familiar faces in the cast. Darren Criss (“Glee,” “American Crime Story: The Assassination of Giani Versace”), Dylan McDermott (“American Horror Story,” “The Politician”), David Corenswet (“The Politician”) and Patti Lupone (“Pose”) all have principal roles. The rest of the ensemble is full of famous faces — including Jim Parsons (“Big Bang Theory”) and Holland Taylor (“The Practice,” “Two and a Half Men”) — and a fair number of actors fresh to the silver screen. These actors give stunning performances throughout the show and work to elevate the sometimes questionable script.
Parsons gives one of the most engaging performances. He plays the role of an in-the-closet agent, Henry Willson, who preys on his clients to fulfill his sexual desires. His character, based on a real person, is given a bitter, vulgar and cunning portrayal that Parsons executes flawlessly. He injects a fair amount of comedy into his dark storyline.
Still, the wonderful acting cannot do enough to cover for this shows deeply confusing choices. Firstly, there is far too much plot. The series starts with a two-part episode, mostly so there is enough time to introduce all the characters and their respective plots. Put simply: It’s too much. Characters that should be supporting roles are given pretty equal screen time to some of the leads and often more dire plotlines. It is an odd and unnecessary choice that overloads the series and creates pacing problems.
Secondly, the show randomly blends its hokey portrayal of movies and acting of the time period into its regular dialogue. Characters are simultaneously fully fleshed out individuals and historical caricatures. It is a choice that many of Murphy’s series struggle with — either to give in to the inherent absurdity or to stay grounded.
The show also blends large amounts of fiction with fact to try and create a connection to the “golden age of Hollywood.” The fictional movie “Meg” is based on the true story of Peg Entwistle, who committed suicide at the famous Hollywoodland sign. Icons of the era, like George Cuckor, Tallulah Blankfield, Hattie McDaniel and Vivien Leigh, are mixed in with the fictional characters to make them seem more real. But to those not as well versed in Hollywood history, all of this effort is probably lost.
But the show’s biggest problem is its extremely liberal use of artistic license on the social politics of the time. It is nowhere near conceivable that most of this show could actually happen at the time. It is a rosey-lensed interpretation of how diversity could have been injected into the Hollywood system, and while it is nice to imagine, it falls very flat (especially considering the problems with diversity that the film industry still faces today) and makes the show’s team seem naive and oblivious.
The social commentary is so heavy-handed, yet the same characters throw these cautions to the wind and make choices that would have risked their lives and physical safety. The show completely ignores the social and historical consequences of its chosen context in a way that is almost offensive to the people who actually lived through the time and did achieve great things.
Ultimately, this will not go down as one of Murphy’s best efforts. Still, it is an easy watch and fun despite its flaws.