As the creator of some of the most popular and critically acclaimed television series in recent years, Ryan Murphy has become one of the most powerful people in TV through an obvious love of two things: big characters with big personalities and campy unapologetic fantasy worlds of glitz and glamor.
Murphy seems to have a show for everyone, from the serial medical drama “Nip/Tuck” and crime procedural “9-1-1,” to high school musical series “Glee” and sorority slasher comedy “Scream Queens,” and from supernatural anthology series “American Horror Story” to real-life anthology series “American Crime Story” and “Feud.”
With all of these series that span the genre spectrum, each show — regardless of how serious or comedic it presents itself as — will give a wink to the audience who is already in the know that each one is in some way a satire of the very genre they’re living in.
Enter “Hollywood,” a new Netflix original miniseries about a group of aspiring young actors and filmmakers in the post-World War II era movie business trying to make their dreams of stardom come true.
While a serious story about the struggles different types of people faced in the Golden Age of Hollywood on one hand, Murphy’s love of larger-than-life, people and campy fantasy is just the shot of adrenaline needed to flip our expectations — and factual history — on their heads.
A meticulously crafted 1940s Los Angeles filled with all the finer details is populated by an all-star cast of younger talent and favorite faces from decades past, “Hollywood” is in and of itself the very thing it’s promoting in its story: a quality product with the right people making it.
Taking a “what if…” approach to history, the story is primarily set in 1947 at the fictional Ace Studios, an amalgamation of some of the best and worsts aspects of the major studios of the era.
It is here that the miniseries follows, among others, Jack Castello (played by David Corenswet), a World War II veteran hoping to become an actor; Ray Ainsley (Darren Criss), a half-Filipino film director; Camille Washington (Laura Harrier), a black up-and-coming actress; and Archie Coleman (Jeremy Pope), a gay black screenwriter.
Together, these four dreamers and some of their closest friends push the boundaries and inspire the studio’s various executives and big-wigs, played by Joe Mantello, Holland Taylor, Jim Parsons and Patti LuPone, to take a chance on a movie that may bankrupt the studio, or be a culture-smashing success.
Due to its historical setting, “Hollywood” takes what I would call a Forrest Gump-approach to storytelling by including these characters who never existed in situations that sort of happened with people who absolutely did exist. From lunch with Hattie McDaniel or dinner with Vivien Leigh to grand house parties thrown by George Cukor and attended by Noël Coward, the miniseries has no problems peeking behind the curtain for a look at the more adult and scandalous scenes of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
As an R-rated program, the story doesn’t shy away from topics that were career suicide in the 1940s, from interracial relations, prostitution, LGBT romance and even the role of women in the workplace. It can be awkward or even upsetting to watch a fictionalized version of Rock Hudson taken advantage of by his manager Henry Willson, but it’s even sadder knowing things like this were happening in Hollywood right up to the #MeToo movement a few short years ago.
And that’s where “Hollywood” the show trying to comment on Hollywood the movie industry can make or break it for some viewers. It’s great to see a group of filmmakers fighting for the rights of people who wouldn’t see a change until the 1960s, ‘70s or even the 2000s, but it doesn’t always match with the 1940s style of dialogue and story choices.
No, we can’t change history, but this is a nice escape to a fantasy past where certain social and cultural barriers were knocked down decades earlier, even if the clichéd and campy script can be hit or miss.
Thankfully, it’s the cast that elevates what could have been just another Netflix series to a story with people you care about and want to see make it big in Tinseltown. Although many of the performances and the production’s look and style are phenomenal, it’s not hard to see why the tone and liberties taken to rewrite history are tough to swallow.