Ryan Murphy continues his TV dominance with ‘Hollywood’

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“Hollywood” (2020)

Created by Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan

Ryan Murphy projects have secured first Emmy wins for actors like Jane Lynch, Sterling K. Brown, Sarah Paulson, Billy Porter, and Darren Criss. Hell, even the critical failure “The Politician”—Murphy’s first project under his recent Netflix deal—gave star Ben Platt a Golden Globe nomination. So, who will the kingmaker tap next? After screening his latest Netflix collab, the limited series “Hollywood,” it looks like stars David Corenswet (who had a prominent role in “The Politician”) or Jeremy Pope (in only his second acting gig) have the best shots at Emmy consideration. Like the rest of Murphy’s acting success stories, these two would be very worthy of the acclaim.

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In the 1940s, when good Hollywood output was at an all-time high and homosexuality was still illegal, many of the film industry’s heavy hitters were closeted gay men and women. Producers, agents, screenwriters, and actors felt they had to hide their private lives from the public. If you were a person of color, you had your own problems breaking into the industry. In “Hollywood,” Murphy and co-creator Ian Brennan (who has worked with Murphy on many of his series) present an alternate version of history and strive to right some of these systemic wrongs. When an interim studio head played by Patti LuPone decides to greenlight a motion picture written by a gay black man (Jeremy Pope) and starring a talented young black actress (Laura Harrier), there is immediate pushback. But the intrepid cast and crew (including David Corenswet as an actor who just blew in from Missouri and Darren Criss as the film’s young director) push on anyway.

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If you only watch the show’s first episode, you might assume Corenswet’s character, Jack—an honest man who turns to prostitution to support his pregnant wife until he secures an acting career—will be the sole focus of “Hollywood.” But Murphy and Brennan have other plans—soon, the focus splits between four or five main players. He doesn’t have as much time to shine as I would have preferred, but Corenswet is a marvelous actor. He looks like an everyman version of Henry Cavill and he hits his comedic cues brilliantly. I hope he continues his working relationship with Murphy. With even less acting experience (Corenswet’s “Politician” role is the most notable thing he’s done so far), Jeremy Pope is another likely candidate for award season attention. His is a role that might make a career for the young actor. And then there are the more experienced actors turning in characteristically terrific work—Patti LuPone, Dylan McDermott, Rob Reiner, Holland Taylor. I did have trouble seeing Samara Weaving—playing a starlet—as sincere, but after a few episodes even she began to win me over. I give the cast high marks all around.

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“Hollywood” turns Tinseltown’s golden age into fodder for this golden age of television. Sure, some critics have said the current golden age of television (which started in the late 1990s, with “The Sopranos”) ended with the “Breaking Bad” finale, but I say look no further than Ryan Murphy’s continued output. Maybe miniseries and anthologies are overtaking traditional serials, and maybe streamers are crowding out cable, but still, good TV is good TV. And that is exactly what Murphy specializes in—funny, dramatic, thrilling television with big budgets, great acting, and thoughtful stories you want to talk about with your friends. “Hollywood” is the kind of television that makes coworkers want to crowd around the water cooler again.

7.5/10

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