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'Hollywood' review: Ryan Murphy's less than shining Tinseltown epic

Laura Harrier wants to be Hollywood's first successful

Laura Harrier wants to be Hollywood's first successful black movie star  and Darren Criss plays her boyfriend in Netflix's 1940s'-set miniseries "Hollywood."  Credit: NETFLIX/Saeed Adyani

LIMITED SERIES "Hollywood"

WHEN | WHERE Streaming on Netflix

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Jack Costello (David Corenswet) comes to Hollywood circa 1945 to become a star, but to make ends meet, becomes a prostitute instead, working tricks at a fake gas station that's actually a brothel, run by Ernie West (Dylan McDermott). (Some of "Hollywood" was inspired by a 2012 book, "Full Service," about just such a '40s-era "gas station.")  While there he makes friends with Archie Coleman (Jeremy Pope) who wants to become a screenwriter, and also the man who would one day become Rock Hudson (Jake Picking). Meanwhile, screenwriter Raymond Ainsley (Darren Criss) wants to make a movie starring his lover, Camille Washington (Laura Harrier), but for her to become the first black leading lady in Hollywood history, he must first sell some studio execs (Northport's Patti LuPone, Holland Taylor and Joe Mantello).

"Hollywood," Ryan Murphy's second production for Netflix after the long run at Fox and FX, also stars Jim Parsons as a fictional agent who propels Hudson to stardom.  

And yes, some real-life people and situations are blended alongside fictional ones in this seven-hour miniseries set in 1940s Hollywood, where African Americans were invisible, and to "be in the closet" meant to "stay in the closet."

MY SAY That Hollywood has always been a transactional business is hardly a secret. That sex had long been part of the transaction hardly is either. That  racism had poisoned the movies since before there was a Hollywood sign isn't even an open secret: It's just a hard, brutal fact. 

 But what if? What if well-meaning, open-minded people once ran the studios instead of the monsters who actually did? What if homophobia didn't destroy Hollywood lives and careers? What if racism was challenged head-on after the Second World War, right up there on the silver screen?

What if Hollywood had its own Hollywood ending?

"Hollywood" is that "what if," along with a few historical injustices finally acknowledged and corrected. To say which ones would be spoilers, but be assured that in this alt-universe, Rock Hudson most likely doesn't end up doing "Pillow Talk" with Doris Day. 

There's some irony in the fact that Ryan Murphy had to go to Netflix to make his Disney movie, but there you have it. Not quite Disney, perhaps — a lot of the language and some of the scenes would have traumatized old Walt — but close enough. All that's missing is an animated bird or two, landing on shoulders, twittering gaily when true love finds a way, or good triumphs over evil. There would be whole flocks of them in "Hollywood." 

Birds or not, Murphy's former network FX (now owned by Disney) would likely never have greenlit "Hollywood'' and for all the right reasons: Too soft, too mawkish, too indulgent.  Besides, FX already got its "Hollywood'' with Murphy's excellent "Feud," then got sued for the trouble. (The litigant, Olivia de Havilland — now 103 — who lost the case, is not mentioned over these seven hours, by the way.) 

"Hollywood's" heart does at least acknowledge what the head once refused to acknowledge. Craven and corrupt, studios did ruin lives and stoke racism. But a seven-hour Velveeta-smothered corrective, along with a few nice performances and some genuinely awful ones (discretion is indeed the better part of valor on this last point, by the way)? 

Get me rewrite, kid. STAT.

BOTTOM LINE Overindulgent, overwrought, overdone. 

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