From American Horror Story to last year’s The Politician, Ryan Murphy has continuously given us some of the decades best and most unique TV. Now this year we’ve been gifted with his and Ian Brennan’s (Scream Queens, Glee) newest series, Hollywood. With a stacked cast of newcomers and veterans, gorgeous visuals and a score that feels timeless; Hollywood is a welcomed addition into Ryan Murphy’s world-building. But not one without flaws.
Taking place in Hollywood post-World War II, we follow a group of young people from all different walks of life trying to climb up the latter in the film industry. The series not only takes us on a journey of the struggles that come with being a woman, queer person or a person of colour during this time but also what it could have been like if more people in power said “screw it! It’s time for a fresh perspective.” With that, we are introduced to Jeremy Pope’s (The Ranger) character Archie, a closeted gay black man who longs to be a successful screenwriter and filmmaker. Working together with Raymond, an up and coming director played by Darren Criss (Glee) and aspiring actress Camille played by Laura Harrier (Spider-Man: Homecoming), they put a lot on the line to make what could be Hollywood’s first woman of colour-led success. Rounding out the younger cast is David Corenswet (The Politician), Samara Weaving (Ready or Not, The Babysitter) and Jake Picking (Patriot’s Day) who all do a wonderful job on their own, especially Jake Picking who plays a young Hollywood stud who not only struggles with acting but as well with his sexuality. Picking’s portrayal of newcomer Rock Hudson supplies us with some of the more heartwarming moments, as well as a romantic ship that the series seems to heavily rely on in all the best ways.
Although it’s a joy to watch many of the newcomers thrive on the screen, it’s the veterans of the industry and those we’ve come to love over the years that steal the show. In particular, Joe Mantello (The Normal Heart), Holland Taylor (Two and a Half Men), and Patti LuPone (Witness, Heist) who plays the wife of the man running Ace Studios. Not only are these three of the strongest and most complex characters in the series, but it’s an absolute joy to watch them all play off of each other with electric chemistry and powerful performances. The show really picks up after a slow start when these three gain control of Ace Studios after Mr. Ace himself is removed for medical reasons.
With only seven episodes to its name, Hollywood does a wonderful job of showing us the uncomfortable dark corners of the industry we’ve often shied away from. In dealing with misogyny, racism, homophobia and the power dynamics that worked for really only one kind of person; and we all know the criteria placed in order to be in charge fifty years ago. While Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan crafted a diverse group of characters to represent the oppression that is put on display, it lacks the character development it needed and left a lot of work for many of the actors to get us to like them. The most prominent example being Camille’s character, a young black woman who is tired of being typecast as “the help”. It’s left me confused as to why she wasn’t given more screen time seeing that she is one of, if not, the most important roles. Laura Harrier’s performance doesn’t suffer from this, which speaks volumes to her talent, but her screen time and role should have been much larger than that of David Corenswet, who plays an actor mainly struggling to be the next leading man.
Hollywood follows the same sort of What If? angle that Quentin Tarantino brought to the screen last year with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but to a whole new and larger level. They’re all questions some of us have posed while watching these old Hollywood films. What if people were exposed to the LGBTQ+ community or other races and nationalities in the film much earlier, but in a positive light? What if women were allowed to have creative control in making stories for them specifically? In the end, Hollywood doesn’t necessarily give us that answer, but it gives us some hope for what the industry could have been instead. It makes us think not only about how far we’ve come with inclusivity in film, but that there’s still progress to be made, and that one day we will get to where we need to be.