What a good-looking show this is! The gold of the Golden Age of Hollywood coats every frame of the show. Hollywood goes for that big musical vibe and every one of its 58 songs from Perry Como’s ‘Catch a Falling Star’ and Fred Astaire’s ‘We’re in the Money’ to Jazz queen Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall’, Frank Sinatra’s ‘As Time Goes By’ and Doris Day’s ‘Just Imagine’ contribute to a lovely, luscious soundtrack.
Unfortunately, the pageant is as meaningless as it is beautiful. Unlike say Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974) or Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential (19970, which shone a dazzling light on the dark underbelly of tinsel town, Hollywood uses the glitter and gold merely to add polish to a rather thin tale. Hollywood is presented as a dream; a diehard fan’s yearning for a perfect Hollywood, which elegantly broke every barrier of class, colour and gender.
With its alternative timeline, the series seems to have more in common with Quentin Tarantino’s love-letter to the end of the Golden Age, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019). However, where Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, with sharp writing presents that most seductive of what-ifs, Hollywood is let down by weak writing. Tarantino is able to make us suspend our disbelief even knowing of Sharon Tate’s horrific end, while Hollywood, even though equally meta, takes the viewer out of the show — you know you are watching a well-produced show, you can see through the smoke and mirrors and then it is up to you whether you want to go along for the ride or not.
- Season: 1
- Episodes: 7
- Run time: 44 – 57 minutes
- Creator: Ryan Murphy, Ian Brennan
- Starring: David Corenswet, Darren Criss, Laura Harrier, Joe Mantello, Dylan McDermott, Jake Picking, Jeremy Pope, Holland Taylor, Samara Weaving, Jim Parsons, Patti LuPone
Hollywood follows two struggling actors — Jack Castello (David Corenswet) a World War II vet and Rock Hudson (Jake Picking) as they try to make it in the movies. There are bunch of others who are looking for their big break, including half-Filipino director, Raymond Ainsley (Darren Criss), his girlfriend, black actress Camille Washington (Laura Harrier) and black gay screenwriter Archie Coleman (Jeremy Pope). Everything comes together during the making of a controversial movie, Meg, based on the life of Peg Entwistle, an actress who wanted to make it in Hollywood and committed suicide by jumping off the ‘H’ on the Hollywood sign when she did not.
Camille is cast as the lead opposite Castello, Ainsley directs from a script written by Coleman. With Ace Studios head Ace Amberg (Rob Reiner) out of action with a heart attack, it is left to his wife, Avis (Patti LuPone) to greenlight the risky project.
Hollywood is built on a scaffolding of real events and people. The 20th Academy Awards in the show’s final episode is a mix of actual and imagined winners. George Cukor (Daniel London) was known for wild poolside parties, Ernie West (Dylan McDermott) based on Scotty Bowers operates his brothel out of a gas station, Anna May Wong (Michelle Krusiec) did lose the lead role in The Good Earth to a white actress, Henry Willson (Jim Parsons) sexually abused his clients and Walt Disney made a movie about happy slaves.
Fictionalised versions of actresses Vivian Leigh (Katie McGuinness), Hattie McDaniel (Queen Latifah) and Tallulah Bankhead (Paget Brewster), playwright Noël Coward (Billy Boyd), and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, (Harriet Sansom Harris) flit through the sleek and shiny corridors of Hollywood.
The show moves smoothly, greased by lovely production and sound design and competent acting. However, it falters in the story it is trying to sell. Clumsy writing drags you out of your comfortable cocoon lined by glamorous Hollywood, to face a world that has ground to a halt thanks to a rampaging, remorseless virus. That is Hollywood’s greatest crime — by showing us an obviously unreal world, it makes us confront the silence and cacophony of isolation.
Hollywood is currently streaming on Netflix