It’s getting more and more difficult to watch some of the Netflix originals that have been released on the platform recently. After the disappointments of The English Game and Self Made, Hollywood is yet another addition to mediocre fare that Netflix has commissioned and produced. A look at Hollywood post World War II, the series, created by Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan and which began streaming on May 1, 2020, bites far, far more than it can chew and fails miserably on most counts.
In Hollywood, we follow the fortunes of a group of youngsters, all outsiders in their own way, trying to break into the movie business. So we have war veteran wannabe movie star, Jack Costello (David Corenswet), black and gay screenwriter, Archie Coleman (Jeremy Pope), half Filipino aspiring director, Raymond Ainsley (Darren Criss), coloured actress, Camille Washington (Laura Harrier), wanting to go beyond the black housekeeper trope, small town, farm boy and gay struggler, Roy Fitzgerald turned Rock Hudson (Jake Picking), and Claire Wood (Samara Weaving), an on-the-make starlet, also the daughter of the owner of Ace Studios, where this motley group hopes to make it big. All their fortunes come to rest on a film, Meg, an unbelievably utopian project wherein this major studio agrees to produce a picture with a coloured actress in the lead (and not playing the maid), written by a gay, black writer, and directed by a half-Asian one. This itself is flimsy because in 1947, a major Hollywood studio would never do something like this and history tells us it didn’t and while the creators have built the focus around ‘re-writing’ the story of power dynamics of Hollywood on what should have been, it just doesn’t come through in a credible manner. It sees the show get into a self-pious, judgemental mode within the hoped for irrelevant tone as to what Hollywood should have done (even back in 1947) versus what Hollywood actually does till date today. The finale, the Oscar ceremony, in particular, is gob smacking in this aspect and the way it toys with history.
For lovers of old Hollywood, the heady days of the Studio System, of movie moguls like Louis B Mayer, David O Selznick and Irving Thalberg, of master directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, George Cukor and John Ford, of dazzling stars like Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Gene Tierney, Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck, Hollywood should have been the perfect go to binge watch. Sadly though, the seven-part series, taking off from the machinations and sleaze of Hollywood, is poorly written, far too simplistic and the narrative is totally in your face, lacking any subtlety whatsoever. It’s a little more than trashy fun in its better moments but little else otherwise. The well-known types are all there in loud campy, stereotypical glory – the hopeful strugglers, the studio owner who wants hit pictures and not good ones, the slimy agent, the failed alcoholic actresses, the typing of minority and ethnic actors, the closeted homosexuals – and there are a lot of them, thrown in sex, adultery, debauchery – you name it. It all adds up to a show that, thanks to sumptuous production designing, is good to look at but is also a shockingly hollow look at the world of showbiz. The weaving of black comedy (no bite), drama (laughable), comedy (unfunny), so called poignancy, mixing factual history with the fictional, using real characters (Rock Hudson, George Cukor, Vivien Leigh, Tallulah Bankhead, Hattie McDaniel) along with the fabricated – all fail to come together into a coherent whole. With uneven characterisations and convenient plotting, it’s plain ludicrous and messy.
The performances, too, of the younger lot, barring Darren Criss to an extent, are disappointing. It is only thanks to the rising-above-the-script acts of the older and more experienced actors – Patti LuPone, Holland Taylor, Joe Mantello, Jim Parsons and Dylan McDermott – that the series is not a total write off.
All in all, Hollywood is a major let down and for someone like me, who is infatuated with the golden years of Hollywood when ‘pictures’ were made and ‘scenes were lensed’, even more so.
English, Drama, Black Comedy, Color