Glitz, glamor, and the gilded age. 1940s Hollywood finds itself revered and scandalized. In a time when the culture changes and the second World War had just finished, Hollywood designed studios to churn out movies and use every trick in the book to capture an audience’s attention. Problem was, they did this at any cost. The stories from the so-called “Golden Age” range from great attention and success to lifelong addictions, sexual and emotional abuse. Hollywood from Netflix and Ryan Murphy looks to change all that.
The series begins with a young actor, Jack, looking to conquer Tinsletown, but finds himself becoming an employee of a gas station that is a front for male prostitution. From there the shiny Hollywood we know stands against the seedy underpinnings of the business. Though, the dazzling sights of the 1940s are well in view. The cast is great as Hollywood veterans and dreamy-eyed newcomers.
The 1490s culture did not permit homosexuality, interracial relationships, or minorities to be seen on screen, so Hollywood channels all issues into one project. As we meet and greet with real-life and fictional characters, the story centers around the creation of a film called, Peg, eventually changed to Meg. As great as it sounds to have a black screenwriter write a film lead by a black actress with a half-Filipino director with a gay supporting actor, it is a few too many leaps in seven episodes.
The characters fit the world well but as the story ramps up their success outweigh their experiences. All the actor characters are brand new with short or non-existent resumes but are touted as the best of their generation. The first time writer is unrealistically prolific for having no real training or mentoring. And the first time director also doesn’t seem to have enough experience to back up this role. Their success feels a little unearned. While the endings for veteran characters feel far more justified because of their life long struggles with the business.
The alt-history trend on TV and in movies has become something of a sub-genre. In Hollywood, the alt-history gives the 1940s such a strong rewrite that it becomes unbelievable. A counterpart to this would be Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which has its flaws too but does a better job of tweaking enough history to make a plausible change without losing realism. As the scope of the show sits narrowly fixed on Ace Pictures, the team putting together Meg begins to feel like a band of misfits coming together to put on a school play. (Glee, anyone?) Rather, it should have worked harder to contextualize the realities of the situation before leaping into alternatives.
When it comes to the sexual nature of the show, nothing seems to be off-limits. Interracial relationships are not questioned, prostitution is a noble profession, and sleeping the boss is no problem. There are many red flags in the post-MeToo era. Actor/prostitute Jack has a paid-for relationship with a married woman who he ends up working for in later episodes. The solution to a film financing problem was solved with prostitution. Also, two real-life figures, Rock Hudson is sexually abused and emotionally blackmailed by his agent, Henry Willson. In the end, Willson does not lose anything but his relationship with Rock because of this behavior. After real-world Hollywood cracked open in the last few years over abuses of power and sexual misconduct, this all feels irresponsible.
Despite great production design, Ryan Murphy’s signature politicizing and the star-studded cast, Hollywood holds little water. One movie can’t cure all the problems in Hollywood as the show suggests, but it is fun to watch.