Netflix “Hollywood” Review: Ryan Murphy Rewrites Tinseltown’s History to Say Nothing

Hollywood Netflix review
Jack and Archie in “Hollywood” (Image: Screengrab)

As with every Ryan Murphy content, there’s more than a 50% chance of it disappointing as it continues. In my opinion, Hollywood is another example of Murphy having very interesting ideas but severely lacking in execution.

What Ryan Murphy has done and continues to do in terms of queer representation in media can’t be denied. He has kicked down many doors over the years. However, when it comes to showcasing the ‘substance’ of his work, there are not a lot that can presented as well-written examples. Murphy is a guy with some great ideas but with an uneven hit-or-miss ratio. The seven-episode Hollywood, it seems, is another miss for him.

I was looking forward to watching this limited series when the trailer was released. Looking at what La La Land could have turned into if it had provided equal opportunities to minorities behind as well as in front of the camera during the post-World War II era offers a lot to bite into. But Murphy’s revisionist fictional retelling of old Hollywood ended up glossing over a lot of problematic stuff to present a fairytale that couldn’t say much in the long run.

It all boiled down to a single freaking movie being able to change Hollywood for the better, and I was like “What the heck just happened?”

The entire thing was the equivalent of someone offering a cold beverage as a sole solution to a racially charged situation. 

Instead of showing how tough it was for minorities back in the day and how things really haven’t reached optimal levels in the present (Halle Berry is still the only African-American woman to have won an Oscar for Best Actress. She received it back in 2002) it was as if the narrative was implying that POC and queer talent didn’t try hard enough in the past.

If only talented minorities from that era could have found the courage to stand up for what they wanted to accomplish and had banded together they would have changed Hollywood, right? Uff!

There’s literally a scene of the two main queer characters walking the red carpet as boyfriends and standing strong in front of all the hate being hurled at them. If only queer people from that era had done such a thing, too, right?

I just can’t with this show.

The very pretty cast (a staple of Murphy’s content) did what they could with the roles they were given. If you were hoping for layered characterization in this show, don’t. There’s nothing really complex about any character in Hollywood. All of the motives are on the nose. The characters will even share dialogue that will let you know what they want and how they feel.

Subtlety? Hollywood doesn’t know her.

We have David Corenswet as Jack Castello, who wants to make it big as an actor. It doesn’t work out for him, and he finds himself becoming a male prostitute. Jack also cheated on his wife (before taking up such a profession), so that immediately prevented me from feeling any sympathy for his character.

Through Jack, we get to meet Avis Amberg (Pattie LuPone) who then helps him enter the film industry. Jack also recruits Archie Coleman (Jeremy Pope) as a prostitute. As a black and gay screenwriter, Archie’s trying his best to enter the industry, too. He wrote a script called “Peg” which is about Millicent “Peg” Entwistle (she’s a real-life actress who took her life by jumping from the Hollywoodland sign).  

The cast also includes Raymond Ainsley (Darren Criss) who wants to direct a movie to change Hollywood forever. This series had Raymond interact with Anna May Wong (Michelle Krusiac). Anna May Wong is another other real-life actress. She’s described as the first Chinese American movie star. Raymond wants to give her the opportunity she deserves in films. Raymond is also in love with a young POC actress named Camille Washington (Laura Harrier), who keeps on getting the role of playing the maid in films.

So, Jack, Archie, Raymond, and the rest come together to make “Peg” and finally change the world.

Hollywood could have used its existence to shine a light on the injustices occurring in the movie business. It could have helped draw parallels between the past and how things haven’t necessarily changed in the present. But instead, it’s all about brushing certain issues aside for a cheerful story that felt empty of any substance. 

Now, that’s not to say you won’t find anything to enjoy in Hollywood. As I mentioned, the cast is pretty to look at. Everyone delivers in the acting department. There’s a lot of nudity and queer representation going on. However, I do think the queer representation offered handles sexual assault and abuse poorly.

The production design and the costumes look great. So, there’s that.

Frankly, I wished Hollywood was better. Murphy did an impressive job of retelling the story of the feud between icons Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in the show Feud. While Murphy fictionalized a lot of the events, he kept true to the final outcome of how the two women were pitted against each other due to exploitative forces around them. Feud told the story of old Hollywood that made the audience ‘think’ about what could have been instead of creating a fantasy scenario where Crawford and Davis had become friends.

I think he and his team should have taken the same route with Hollywood. Of course, he could have talked about how the world of movies could have changed if POC and queer people were accepted back then, but giving the series a fantastical narrative arc, especially in the finale, took away from how this series could have addressed the present issues in the industry.

Hollywood also includes actress Mira Sorvino in the cast. Sorvino’s role as Jeanne Crandall is very meta due to what Sorvino has gone through in real life. Jeanne’s story is about the countless women in the industry who have been preyed upon by men in power. If these women dared to stand up, they risked being blacklisted from the industry. While I understand the sentiment behind casting Sorvino as Jeanne, again, the end result is without substance.

The retelling featured in Hollywood is too fantastical.

Hollywood was released on Netflix on May 1, 2020. You can watch it if you want, but I would rather you go and view the well-written queer film The Half of It first. It has an Asian lead and is written and directed by Asian talent.

Author: Farid-ul-Haq

Farid has a Double Masters in Psychology and Biotechnology as well as an M.Phil in Molecular Genetics. He is the author of numerous books including Missing in Somerville, and The Game Master of Somerville. He gives us insight into comics, books, TV shows, anime/manga, video games, and movies.

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