Ryan Murphys “Hollywood” Mini Series Review: Glamour without any substance

7 mins read

Glamour, fame and showbiz baby! With the start of May, Netflix has prepared a mini-series that will give you the tingling feeling of what it’s like to be an entertainment enthusiast – even during the pandemic. Hollywood is being revived – in the truest sense of the word. In the series of the same name, showrunner and producer Ryan Murphy takes us to the Tinseltown of the 1940s, with throngs of wannabes crashing the gates of the fictional Ace Studios seeking fame and fortune in “the pictures”.

Murphy is a house hold name in the television landscape. When his name is associated with a series, it is directly a quality mark. He brought the series “Glee” to the screen, turned the concept of “American Horror Story” into reality and enchanted viewers in recent years with productions like “Pose”, “American Crime Story” and last but not least 2019’s “The Politician”. The latter was already part of the big $300 million dollar deal Netflix had made with him to produce more series for the streaming giant. Netflix’s program director Ted Sarandos commented in 2018: “Ryan Murphy’s series have influenced the global cultural zeitgeist, reinvented genres and changed the history of television. His unstoppable dedication to excellence gave voice to the under-represented, showed us unusual perspectives and shook us to the core.” But can he bring his excellency on to “Hollywood?”

Off to Dreamland: Jack Castello (David Corenswet) and Avis Amberg (Patti LuPone) on their way to fullfill their dreams

“Hollywood” fulfils all the important requirements – a star cast of young actors such as David Corenswet (“The Politian”), Darren Criss (“The Assassination of Gianni Versace”) or Samara Weaving (“Ready or Not”), but also common names of the television landscape such as Jim Parsons (“The Big Bang Theory”), who should be a familiar face to most people. Elaborated sets were prepared to create the flair of Los Angeles and especially the costumes complete the overall picture. At first sight a lot was put into the project to produce a mini-series with 7 episodes. Actually it should have been ten at the beginning, but Netflix shortened the project. Did they already have any idea back then how much glamour the project actually lacked? Or rather a lot of glamour but little substance.

On the surface, the period detail and gorgeous cast make “Hollywood” a breezy and soapy watch, with some amusing dialogue and sequences that also shine a light on the Hollywood of the past, especially in the early episodes. Initially appearing to merely be mixing fictional characters with real-life historical figures, the show gradually begins to move further and further into an alternate history of the Hollywood – which takes way too long. Murphy’s narrative is attempting to make a point about gender inequality and racial/sexual discrimination. It does so in an odd and almost forceful manner. If your storyline doesn’t flow properly, everything begins to blend together stripping moments of their meaning. Murphy wants to be edgy and misses the mark with his attempt of doing so.

From left to right: Jeremy Pope, Darren Criss and Laura Harrier hoping for their picture to win at the Academy Awards

Characters speak not really as people, but as avatars of larger identities-a race and sexual orientation. But it often falls victim to Murphy’s worst storytelling instincts, with too much telling instead of showing and themes plainly spelled out and underlined in the dialogue. The center of Hollywood’s goofy-cute let’s-put-on-a-show fable. Most of the production’s conflicts are patently designed to be overcome, so there isn’t much in the way of dramatic stakes: We know they’re gonna get this movie made. We know it’s going to be a success. We know that they’re going to be an happy ending.  The show’s simplistic and rosified view of the era reduces everything to the most obvious of shapes.

The show doesn’t get to any point, offers no added value to the plot and its characters, and thus no added value for the viewer. The inhabitants of Dreamlands live in a pink bubble and live a life that is rippling along without huge consequences or a build-up of tension. Instead, the to and fro between happy celebrations and sexual distractions of the characters leads to whiplash trauma. There is simply no structure to be found, which is why you have to look for it whether you have sacrificed your viewing time for aesthetics or for the appearance of being. There can be told a lot about the movie industry, especially when you mix reality with fiction, but “Hollywood” seems to have dug up the wrong facts in order to create a successful narrative. Instead, everything is filmed in such a way that the characters always have everything in their arms and can live their dream in showbiz – without that consequence or complication. That’s why it’s just rippling along and in the end is just a stylish package without any real visible content.

The appeal is always there – rewriting historical stories to make our ancestors better, more developed people with good intentions. Especially Quentin Tarantino always brings this certain something to his films. But “Hollywood” expresses its glitter, glamour and sexual exploitation without real depth. While the production design and the costumes are convincing, both the characters and their plot seem more unnatural than this fairy tale should dictate. But the self-congratulation of the narratives leads to nothing more than boring scenes, which are only seen because of the promising work of the world creators. A fantasy that is nevertheless inviting, which with a better plot and dialogues would have represented the zeitgeist with sustainability.


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