Ryan Murphy rewrites Hollywood history for Netflix series
Ryan Murphy’s “Hollywood” is a revisionist tale that blends facts with fiction in a series about the town’s golden era.
Murphy, known for creating dynamic and star-studded series like “The Politician” and “American Horror Story,” sought to create an alternative history for Hollywood, one where race and sexual orientation are boundaries that his characters can hurdle and create a more welcoming version of Tinseltown. Surprisingly, Jessica Lange, an actress Murphy often works with, was not in the series.
The series begins with Jack, a WWII veteran trying to make a name for himself in the movies, but since he hasn’t earned any roles yet he finds himself working as a gas station attendant/escort. As Jack tries to claw his way into the movie studio, he befriends Archie, a gay black writer, whom he brings into the escort ring. Archie meets his client, a fictionalized Rock Hudson, when he’s trying to break into the film scene. Meanwhile at the studio, a young director, Raymond, stumbles across Archie’s screenplay and wants to make that movie and decides to change up the script so he can cast his girlfriend, Camille, as the romantic lead.
As the characters embark on making this film, they encounter plenty of issues as the studio is initially reluctant to create a film with a black woman like Camille as the leading lady. The studio is in for even more of a shock when they learn about Archie’s identity and that the director is half Asian. When the studio executive’s wife has to take over while her husband is out of commission, Avis takes her chance to make the film and ignores all the naysayers to what the characters feel is a game-changing film.
“Hollywood” spotlights the biases at work behind the scenes in Tinseltown and rewrites history to slap a Walt Disney ending in a period when actors and actresses of color were typecast in stereotypical or domestic servant roles and being outwardly gay could end a career. While the writing is engaging and depicts an idealized history of the movie industry, dramatically rewriting history to make Rock Hudson an openly gay man ignores the experiences the real actor faced. The grandiose rewrite of the actor’s history is more concerning, considering the other real-life characters in the series played smaller roles in “Hollywood.”
As for the performances themselves Patti LuPone steals the spotlight as Avis, a woman determined to hold on to her power when she has the chance to run the film studio after she failed to make the transition from silent films to talkies. LuPone offers viewers the chance to see what could have happened if a woman was running a Hollywood studio. Holland Taylor’s turn as talent manager Ellen sneaks up upon viewers as the character quietly works to pull better performances from her actors to create stars.
“Hollywood” is available on Netflix and is rated TV-MA. Viewers might be interested in Murphy’s depiction of the animosity between actresses Joan Crawford and Bette Davis while co-starring in “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” in “Feud,” available on Amazon. Audiences might also enjoy “Fosse/Verdon,” which follows the personal and professional relationship between Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon.
Episode length: 45-50 minutes
Similar series: Feud or Fosse/Verdon