Jun 9, 2017

[TV] Feud: Season 1 - Bette and Joan Review

When I learn that a show has Ryan Murphy behind the curtain, I know we're in for a wild right with crazy plot twists and crazy story ideas. They don't always go so well if the stories run on too long, and thus why I didn't watch much more than the second or third season of Glee. But what Murphy does seem to do well is apply his brand of creative craziness to shorter form stories as limited series. Hence the success of his run with American Horror Story.

Here comes Fued, a new anthology TV series again on FX, again with Ryan Murphy as one of the driving forces behind the show. And true to form, he's decided to focus on some of the juiciest stories out there - long-running feuds between figures of power and fame.

The first focus of the show is one well-known to a good chunk of the LGBT community. It's a feud that we had read a lot about already in other media and could now see depicted on the small screen with some great talent bringing the personalities involved to life.

And it was a LOT of fun.

Synopsis: Feud is an American anthology drama series created by Ryan Murphy, Jaffe Cohen, and Michael Zam. The show is fairly short and only runs for 8 episodes in his first season but it tells a heck of a story. A second season has already been commissioned called Charles and Diana, focusing on the lives of Charles, Prince of Wales and Diana, Princess of Wales.

Feud is centered around the production of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? between Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) and Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange), the stars of the show. We start the story seeing each in the twilight of their career but both determined to keep on working in the industry. So when Joan Crawford manages to convince director Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina) to get on board with a project to adapt a book into he aforementioned movie and later bring in Better Davis to draw more folks to the cinemas.

But what Aldrich discovers is that Crawford and Davis can hardly work together, and this makes for very tense situations on set and even translates into some of the acting while the cameras roll. Some of this helps the movie but a lot of it just makes life difficult. And the issues just snowball the longer the women are together even beyond the movie's eventual release.

What I Liked: Sarandon and Lange are amazingly brilliant in how they portray these iconic women of old Hollywood. Capturing the look is just make-up and we've seen that over and over again. But here we see them really live as these great actresses and yet add their own spin to things to keep it all distinct. You don't forget that it's really Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange but you celebrate how they honor Davis and Crawford respectively.

And the show is filled with amazing talent. Of course Molina is excellent as the director of this little project and he has always been a great actor. Stanley Tucci makes for an excellent intense Warner Bros' studio head as Jack Warner and has a fire under him in almost every scene. And I totally didn't recognize Catherine Zeta-Jones as Olivia de Havilland, friend to Better Davis. But I think really special mention has to go out to Jackie Hoffman who plays a brilliantly compelling Mamacita, the housekeeper and assistant of Joan Crowford.

What Could Have Been Better: The show can only maintain so much energy and tension for so long and thus certain episodes can tire you out because of all the drama. It's a good and a bad thing since these scenes can be a lot of fun but then can also be a bit of a drag when all clumped together. And thus some episodes feel slower or more difficult than others.

Ironically the parts on-set for the movie ended up being the less interesting bits compared to all the stuff that happens after production wraps. A few episodes are nicely dedicated to that part of the story and there are some great moments but in the end it doesn't quite compare to all the shenanigans that come after. And that disparity is hard to understand.

TL;DR: Feud: Bette and Joan is a great first season for this new anthology series and the other shows promise to be a lot of fun provided they find more great stories to tell. But it's not all Ryan Murphy craziness given the stories are still largely based on real life and that helps ground things well. Thus the first season gets a good 4 crazy shenanigans mainly perpetrated by Joan Crawford out of a possible 5.


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