A group of aspiring actors and filmmakers in post-World War II Hollywood try to make it in Tinseltown — no matter the cost. Each character offers a unique glimpse behind the gilded curtain of Hollywood’s Golden Age, spotlighting the unfair systems and biases across race, gender and sexuality that continue to this day.
Format: 7 episodes streaming on Netflix simultaneously.
Cast: David Corenswet, Darren Criss, Jeremy Pope, Samara Weaving, Laura Harrier, Jim Parsons, Dylan McDermott, Holland Taylor, Patti LuPone, Jake Picking, Joe Mantello
Directors: Ryan Murphy (1), Daniel Minahan (2), Michael Uppendahl (3, 5), Janet Mock (4, 6), Jessica Yu (7)
Writers: Ryan Murphy (Created by, 1-5, 7), Ian Brennan (Created by, 1-7), Janet Mock (4,6), Reilly Smith (6)
A lot of Ryan Murphy’s projects have been about highlighting minorities. Whether it was in Glee with young gay student Kurt Hummel and the rest of that shows diverse cast or in Pose, a series set in New York ballroom culture scene in the 1980s, Ryan Murphy has looked to shine a light on minority groups who aren’t regularly given a chance. His latest series does the same but goes a step further by rewriting history to try to make 1940s Hollywood and the world more accepting of different ethnicities and sexual orientations.
Hollywood follows a group of film industry veterans and newcomers who all end up working together to bring a potentially culture-changing film to the screen. There is Jack Costello (David Corenswet), a former World War II serviceman, aspiring actor and soon-to-be father, who while struggling to get an opportunity, starts working at a gas station run by Ernie (Dylan McDermott) which also happens to be the front for a high-end prostitution ring. Archie Coleman (Jeremy Pope), a black, gay screenwriter, is recruited to work at the gas station too where he meets aspiring actor Roy Fitzgerald (Jake Picking) with whom he begins a relationship.
Raymond Ainsley (Darren Criss) is an aspiring filmmaker who has a meeting with Ace Studios where his girlfriend Camille Washington (Laura Harrier) works as a contracted player, although she is struggling to do more than play racially stereotypical parts. Ace Studios is run by Ace Amberg (Rob Reiner) with the help of Executive Dick Samuels (Joe Mantello) and Talent Manager Ellen Kincaid (Holland Taylor), while his unsatisfied wife Avis (Patti LuPone) tries to find purpose in her life and daughter Claire (Samara Weaving) chases her own acting dreams.
While most of these characters are fictitious there are a number of real-life figures portrayed in the series, although that should not be a hindrance to anyone unfamiliar with 1940s Hollywood. You won’t miss much if the names Rock Hudson, Vivien Leigh or Anna May Wong don’t mean anything to you.
The show is a very sincere look at the struggle of not only breaking into the film business but doing it when you are a marginalised person because of the times. Some of my favourite parts of the series were those focused on the film making process, whether it was the screen testing, the table read or creative discussion about the film. While it won’t be enough for people looking for an in-depth behind the scenes look at the making of movies, with very little of the actual filming of the film covered, there is enough there to get you in invested in the film’s success. The show is filled with so much hope and optimism that it is hard not to get swept up in it all.
The acting from the main cast can’t be faulted with a number of stand out performances. Jeremy Pope was simply outstanding as a man who is so aware that he is living in a time where a person of his race and sexuality don’t get to do what he is doing. Each scene with him in it was a delight and I suspect he will be the one everyone is talking about after Hollywood’s release. David Corenswet, who I praised for his role in The Politician last year, is fantastic as the very naive Jack who struggling to deal with everything he is doing to try to achieve his dream and is someone I am very keen to see more of in the future.
While the title sequence is focused on the younger members of the cast, I thoroughly enjoyed the scenes with the more seasoned performers Patti LuPone, Holland Taylor and Joe Mantello. They each have great banter with each other and their own issues to overcome. Dylan McDermott looks like he was having the time of his life as the incredible positive operator of the Gas Station/Prostitution ring and Hollywood staple.
The role that is sure to be divisive is Jim Parson’s performance as Henry Willson. It is a far cry from the beloved Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory as Parson plays the slimy, manipulative, well-connected talent agent who was known to coerce his clients into homosexual relationships in exchange for publicity and film roles. Foulmouthed and mean, the scenes of him moulding the naive and not-very-bright Roy Fitzgerald into Rock Hudson are hard to watch but difficult to look away from. He is the second most villainous character in the series, after the lawyer looking to shut the film down.