It’s post World War II in America, and war veteran Jack Costello (David Corenswet) wants to become a movie star. He waits outside the gates of Ace Pictures with the hopes of being selected by the casting agent who walks by and picks out from the crowd people who want to be extras in the many productions happening inside. Jack is tall, very good-looking, but he doesn’t seem to catch a break.
And he has a lot riding on this, because his pregnant wife is working as a waitress, and their electricity just got cut off, and he’s feeling unable to provide for his family nor is he getting any closer to his dream of becoming a movie star.
Enter Ernie West (Dylan McDermott) who offers him a job at a gas station that is the front for an underground prostituion ring for rich, bored housewives and the secretive homosexual community of Hollywood. Against his will and with the pressure of providing for his family, Jack agrees and the story is set for a re-envisioning of Hollywood history by veteran television series creator Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story, and The Politician).
‘Hollywood’ is a 7-episode look into what the movie industry could have been if more progressive minds had a chance at taking control. It follows a cast of characters including Jack; the young half-Filipino director Raymond (Darren Criss); a coloured actress Camilla (Laura Harrier), who dreams of playing more than just a maid; a black gay screenwriter Charlie (Jeremy Pope); a then-unknown Rock Hudson (Jake Picking); Claire Wood (Samara Weaving), an actress who is hiding her real identity; the two studio executives who want to make good movies, Ellen Kincaid and Dick Samuels (Holland Taylor and Joe Mantello), a sleazy Hollywood agent Henry Wilson (Jim Parsons); and Avis (Patti LuPone), the wife of the head of Ace Studios.
Murphy plays off of the Hollywood glitz and glamour while interjecting a healthy dose of dirty realism. He uses the tone of a dark fairy tale to address the concerns of prostitution, sexual harrassment, racism, sexism, and profit-over-art while keeping things light and hopeful. It’s a delicate balance that Murphy plays, tackling such dark themes, while re-envisioning a different kind of Hollywood with a more progressive lens. There’s no question he’s making pointed stabs at Hollywood today, its hypocrisy and its desperate need to diversify and address its larger audience.
The performances here are inspired. There’s a broad innocence that pervades each episode that fits into its fairy tale structure and style. The innocence feels like old Hollywood yet a lot of the dialogue and sensibilities are modern. LuPone, Taylor, Mantello, Weaving, and Criss handle this balancing act extremely well while Parsons is having a blast being the despicable Henry Wilson. Corenswet has to fight through his ridiculously beautiful face to be taken seriously and Murphy uses that in full measure with Corenswet’s earnestness to make Jack Castello really shine through.
I have to say, she's not a regular cast member, but Katie McGuinness plays a wonderful Vivienne Leigh and it is such a delight to see Mira Sorvino again.
‘Hollywood’ is a complete reimagining of American cinema and it might ruffle feathers for its very loose portrayal of real people amidst this very imagined setting. Its harsh criticism on contemporary American cinema is a very welcome breath of fresh air for a non-American viewer who gets to be reminded that there was an actress called Anna May Wong (Michelle Krusiec), who was a working actress from 1919 to 1961 and was never given her due; or about the first black woman to win an Oscar, Hattie McDaniel, and the way she was treated at the Academy Awards ceremony where she was nominated.
While there is a romantic appeal to ‘Hollywood’ while being equally as dark and sexualized (as a Ryan Murphy show would be), it is upfront and in-your-face about its politics and it pulls no punches. Murphy manages to balance this all out somehow and, while its last three episodes stay true to its dark fairy tale tone, it feels rushed and could have been spread out into five more episodes.
Hollywood launches globally on Netflix this May 1, 2020.