Hollywood Review: Netflix’s alternative look at the golden age of Tinseltown

The new seven-part drama presents an inspiring ‘what if?’ tale of Hollywood hopefuls seeking to make it big in post-war America

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As history lovers, we often put factual accuracy above all else. As such, tales of ‘alternate’ history may not initially appeal as opposed to an authentic, though dramatised, retelling of actuality. Whilst it’s easy to dismiss the former approach as idol fantasy, Ryan Murphy and Netflix’s new show, Hollywood, proves that sometimes showing what could have been serves to reveal more about what was.

Making his name as the creator of Glee, Murphy has had hit after hit with shows such as Pose, The Politician and American Horror Story. This latest series takes place in post-war Hollywood and tells of a group of newcomers to the town, each with a dream to make it big. A complex mix of fictional characters with real historical figures such as Anna May Wong, the show highlights the hypocrisy and prejudice of the ‘Golden Age’ of Hollywood. The first few episodes take inspiration from the life of Scotty Bowers and in particular his memoir Full Service. As such, things get pretty explicit and whilst some may shrink from it’s warts and all representation, these first few hours express fully the exploitation of individuals which has been a sad recurring factor in the movie industry. 

That said they are not without moments of humor and it’s worth stating that the show is incredibly funny. David Corenswet as newcomer Jack Castello particularly shines here whilst other cast members such as Jeremy Pope, Dylan McDermott and Pattie LuPone give memorable turns. Picking out a few names is hard however, when every single individual involved is on top form. Also of note is the look of the show, which oozes glamour and ‘old Hollywood’ style. A particularly bright colour palette helps suggest a fairytale, lending a ‘technicolour dream’ quality to the proceedings. 


As the story moves on and fully develops into a ‘What If?’ scenario, this ‘fairytale’ quality begins to seep into the narrative. Suddenly the story becomes a tale of individuals who through a series of circumstances, overcome not only the discrimination rampant in Hollywood but possibly in America. It highlights the power of the cinema and the possibility of how things could have been, had Hollywood been prepared to take chances to change the world and not just reflect it.  

Now, the inclusion of Rock Hudson (Jake Picking) as a lead in a cast which involves mostly fictional characters begins to make sense. Paired with Jim Parsons as real-life manager Henry Wilson, whose habit of exploiting his clients for sexual favours is shown in several key scenes, it becomes one of the most bittersweet narratives in the entire show. Bittersweet because whilst History shows us how it all ended so differently, Hollywood shows us what could have happened if things had gone better. If, like in the movies they made, the stars had happy endings too.

For groups and individuals who were mistreated during this period, Murphy’s and Netflix’s collaboration serves to give them a ‘Hollywood Ending’. Equally hilarious, uplifting and tragic the show, by presenting an idealistic alternative world, manages to tell us more about the prejudices of the past by showing us what could have been. The result is brazen and brave. Likely to garner some controversy, it’s a feel good and powerful series that demands your attention.


Hollywood launches on Netflix 1 May 2020

Banner image: Courtesy of Netflix

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