Ryan Murphy, who seems to constantly have a new show out, has a new show out. Hollywood is a Netflix miniseries that details life in late 1940s Hollywood. While the concept seems interesting, the writing and production of the show effectively nullify any impact it may have.
The premise is like many shows that came before it: a bunch of young people try to get their big breaks in the movie industry. Murphy attempts to update the tired trope by featuring a diverse cast and by looking at issues of race and sexuality. He fails to do this rather spectacularly.
Hollywood’s main issue is that it lacks tension and stakes for the characters. Their motivations are established somewhat, but they don’t go much further beyond simply wanting to be in movies. It feels that, if the characters were to not get what they were striving for, they would just keep living life as normal. Because of this, it’s incredibly hard to root for them.
Take the main character, Jack Castello (David Cornswet). He dreams of making it big both because he loves movies and as a way to support his pregnant wife. But his motivations are flimsy at best. He wants to support his wife but cheats on her with little remorse. He wants to make it big, but doesn’t know how to act. All of this adds up to a very uninteresting storyline. The writers don’t seem to understand how to make compelling characters the audience actually cares about.
In an attempt to create tension, the show drags at a snail’s pace, making a 50-minute episode seem like it lasts an hour and a half. Good drama comes from situational tension, high stakes writing and an actual emotional investment in the characters – all things Hollywood lacks.
The show’s second major flaw is its failure to actually address any of the social issues it tries to. The fictional production company Ace Studios, where the main cast works, exists completely in a vacuum. Aside from brief mentions of award shows and theaters in the South, there is no real outside world. Therefore, the stakes are almost nonexistent. Characters do face discrimination in the workplace, but the issues caused by others’ racism are somewhat glossed over. Even a plot line involving the Ku Klux Klan is resolved rather quickly. It seems to say that if a few people were a little less racist or if a woman ran a studio in the ‘40s, the country would’ve been changed for the better. This simply isn’t true. It’s a nice thought, sure, but when addressing major cultural issues, context is everything. Otherwise, there’s no real meaning behind what you’re trying to convey. Hollywood decides to bypass this context. Though fictionalized versions of real stars like Anna May Wong and Hattie McDaniel appear, they seem more like props than anything else.
The saving grace of the show comes from the actors themselves, who do their best to bring emotion to the stilted script. Veteran Ryan Murphy collaborator Holland Taylor is clever and charming as Ellen Kincaid and Joe Mantello breathes passion into the character of Dick Samuels, both doing the best they can with what they were given. The younger actors – namely Jake Picking and Jeremy Pope, as Rock Hudson and Archie Coleman, respectively – also deliver convincing, moving performances.
Hollywood, despite having a somewhat compelling premise, is heavily hindered by the quality of its writing and plot structure. For insight into the real struggles of minorities in the movie industry of the 1940s, I suggest watching a documentary instead.
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