To state that streaming platforms have fundamentally changed the way that we partake in serialized entertainment would be an understatement. It can be argued that the popularization of serialized television began with The X-Files in the 1990s, and continued through the 2000s up until the present. Which brings us to Netflix’s Hollywood. Hollywood is a television show set during the post-war era in Los Angeles and follows the story of several characters in their journey to break into the entertainment industry. Hollywood itself takes on a serialized format, with each episode leading into the next and carrying the consequences of actions from one episode to the next until the penultimate episode.
From a storytelling perspective Hollywood has a lot of room to grow in its initial few episodes, but toward the end of the series it leaves questions about where it can potentially expand and tell another story. This is problematic because, it would seem, there is no long-term serialized plan for a multi-season story. This could be due to Netflix’s own fickleness with serialized content, where some shows like Orange is the New Black overstay their expiration date while shows like Mindhunter seem to be cut short (Mindhunter currently sits in limbo for a variety of reasons, but no new seasons or plans for new seasons have been announced). With a story that seems to be wrapped up by the end of the season, where does Hollywood go?
Hollywood has a first season that progresses far too quickly for engaging serialized content. From the series pilot to the series finale our main characters go from just trying to make it in the business to being stars in their respective areas. While this does seem at first glance to be a throwback to golden and silver age films where any obstacle can be overcome by the end of the film, it fails to provide a glimpse at the pain and disappointment many face when attempting to break into the entertainment industry. The image Hollywood paints of its namesake is indeed gilded, a golden outer coating that conceals the rot within. The series is problematic, in more ways than the glossing over of the struggle to make it in the industry.
Hollywood does not paint a realistic picture of Hollywood’s past, as a matter of fact it does not attempt to. With, however, Hollywood looks at the past as the showrunner would like it to have been, not as it was. Rather than take the time of exploring the issues that existed within the Hollywood studio system, the systemic racism, the homophobia, and the terrible behavior of power brokers Hollywood creates a sanguine image of an idealized Hollywood as our modern sensibilities would like it to have been. This is problematic because it colors the image of the past, sweeping beneath a rug all of the trials and tribulations of those who fought to make a more just and equal present, a struggle that continues to endure. To make things worse, Hollywood does not even engage with this rose-colored past in a thought-provoking manner (see Red Dead Redemption 2 for a masterclass in engaging with a past as it existed alongside the idealized past). This is not to say that Hollywood has no redeeming factors, however.
David Corenswet, playing series lead Jack Costello, does a fantastic job playing a character who has difficulty distinguishing his reality from his perception of what he is actually doing. The overly dramatic, overly eager Jack is contrasted by the things he needs to do to put food on the table for his pregnant wife and continue his quest to make it. Dylan McDermott is certainly a series standout with his portrayal of smarmy pimp Ernie West. Patti Lupone is a standout as well, portraying Avis Amberg, wife of a studio head and the person who greenlights the film that progresses our characters to stardom. The rest of the cast does well in their respective roles, except for Jim Parsons who seems horribly miscast as real-life scummy talent agent Henry Wilson. Parson’s portrayal, cadence, and demeanor all fail to fit with the character that he played—a character more suited to real-life supervillain Kevin Spacey than to Jim Parsons.
The casting begins to beg the question “Are we watching the most interesting story here?” It can be argued that the better show would have been one focusing on Ernie or Avis, rather than Jack and his cast of young up and comers, due to the standout performances of the actors involved. Watching Ernie be the backing and power behind the rise of young people in Hollywood, or Avis navigating the male-dominated politics of post-war Hollywood would have been far more compelling than watching the story that we got.
Is Hollywood worth your time? Hollywood is much like eating cotton candy, enjoyable while it lasts but it will leave your stomach upset afterward. The recommendation of this reviewer is to toss a coin to your Witcher (and don’t stop watching until you have seen the show in its entirety).