In Hollywood, Ryan Murphy gives us a “what could have been” look of Hollywood if it had been truer to its supposed progressive nature instead of hiding its homophobia, racism, and sexism. In a post World War II Hollywood, Jack Castello (David Corenswet) and many others are swarming the gates of Ace Studios hoping to get their big break in the movies.
Jack’s lack of acting opportunities and pressure from his pregnant wife, forces him to find employment elsewhere. This twist of fate brings him to a local gas station that is really an undercover prostitution ring run by Ernie (Dylan McDermott). The gas station is filled with people trying to make it in Hollywood, but when Jack isn’t comfortable with servicing clientele of a certain persuasion, he branches out and convinces Archie Coleman (Jeremy Pope) to join him at the gas station.
Through repeated encounters with those who frequent the gas station, Jack and Archie are able to make connections with people who work within the industry. Jack encounters Avis Amberg (Patti Lupone), whose husband runs Ace Studios and through a series of events, is able to get a contract at the studio. Archie, on the other hand, ends up meeting Rock Hudson (Jake Picking) and their liaison becomes something more than a hook up in a time in history where they certainly weren’t accepted as a couple.
Aspiring filmmaker Raymon Ainsley (Darren Criss) and girlfriend, Camille Washington (Laura Harrier) are overjoyed when Raymond is offered the opportunity to pick a script to direct. This lands Archie’s script for a film called Peg right in Raymond’s lap. Peg tells the tragic story of Peg Entwistle, a young actress who lept to her death from atop the Hollywoodland sign in 1932. Her story becomes somewhat symbolic for all the characters involved as they understand her struggle and desperation in making it in this crazy business.
Challenging the status quo and pushing for change within the industry becomes a resonating message in each episode of the show. Raymond, who looks white, is actually part Filippino, and throughout the show becomes one of many characters who begins to push boundaries. Raymond wants to direct a screenplay that is written by a gay black man while the story itself will feature the first black actress in a leading role.
Murphy’s Hollywood pays homage to the old Hollywood while also admitting its flaws as we should do with all aspects of our history. While it can be a bit on the nose and overly indulgent, it is emotional and personal. The fantastic younger cast gives some incredible performances, particularly Jeremy Pope and David Corenswet, but what grounds the series are the performances by our veteran cast members, Jim Parsons, Joe Mantello, and of course, the fabulous Patti Lupone.
Joe Mantello’s performance is one that is the perfect portrayal of a man stuck in between his desires and the person he must present to the world. Mantello does this in such a delicate and preserves way, that once he lets loose, it is enthralling and moving. I hope that his performance isn’t overlooked come Emmy nomination time.
As with any period piece, the costume design is of the utmost importance and Hollywood nailed it with beautifully intricate costume design and memorable ensembles for each character. The over the top costumes of the Hollywood elite covered in furs, boas and intricate hats contrast perfectly with the simple costumes of the aspiring creatives of the film. Patti Lupone’s character Avis has some of the most memorable costumes of the entire show.
Where Hollywood feels a bit too overripe is in its idealistic and formulaic conclusions. As anyone knows, this idealism that can be contagious feels wholly unrealistic and unattainable. While now is a perfect time to have an extra dose of optimism, it does come across as a bit naive and unrealistic. This isn’t to say that Murphy ignores the shortcomings of the industry, but rather their resolution feels too simple.
A prime example of this would be the shows handling of agent Henry Wilson played by Jim Parsons. Henry Wilson is a man who manipulates others in a repulsive manner, and he gets redemption far too quickly and easily for anyone to fully believe it. I wish we had some more harsh realities for those offenders in this story especially after knowing what we know now about men like Weinstein.
Hollywood, while not perfect, is a shining example of how diversity in front of and behind the camera is the best route of Hollywood, both in the past and present. Embracing those differences, and sharing those stories on screen has an impact on the world around us. The message that should endure from Hollywood is one of diversity and progression in a world that seems so set against it.