THE SERIES “Z: The Beginning of Everything”
WHEN | WHERE Starts streaming Friday on Amazon Prime
WHAT IT’S ABOUT Zelda Sayre (Christina Ricci) meets unpublished writer F. Scott Fitzgerald (David Hoflin) in her hometown, Montgomery, Alabama, just before troops are to be sent overseas to fight in the “Great War.” He’s a soldier, getting ready to ship out, but courts her quickly, much later marries her, and one of the most famous power couples of the century is born. “Z: The Beginning of Everything,” a five-hour, 10-part series, covers their life together through the early ’20s, after they had moved to a small beach house in Westport, Connecticut (those scenes were filmed on Long Island). The Roaring ’20s — when they move to Great Neck where they live briefly and when “The Great Gatsby” is conceived — will presumably be covered in the next installment of this series. Later institutionalized for psychological disorders, Zelda Fitzgerald died in a hospital fire in North Carolina in 1948. She was just 47.
MY SAY Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald has almost always been a star, but the “super” part was added in 1970 when Nancy Milford’s “Zelda” was published. Milford rescued her from the popular imagination, as jazz-age “flapper,” party girl, style icon and drinking consort to the world-famous novelist — the Kim Kardashian to Scott’s Kanye West. In Milford’s hugely influential portrait, she emerged as an artist in her own right, and a major talent too. Zelda stepped out of that shadow to become ZELDA, and right now, Zelda couldn’t be hotter: Jennifer Lawrence is developing a movie on her life with Ron Howard, and so is Scarlett Johansson.
While those will be contained movies, Amazon’s “Zelda” has the benefit of sprawl — a multihour life tour that could theoretically exceed Milford’s book in scope, with these five — and almost certainly more — hours to follow this. The streaming service even calls “Zelda” a “groundbreaking project,” although what sort of ground is getting broken here isn’t immediately obvious. In TV terms, “Zelda” is what’s called a “biopic” and abides by the conventions of the form. We first see her as a high-spirited young woman in stuffy Montgomery, Alabama, who then meets a flaxen-haired, blue-eyed would-be novelist, and is swept off her feet. He gets early fame. They drink. They fight. They reconcile.
Fitzgerald is asked at a party: “What does your wife do?”
“She loves me. She’s Zelda. She doesn’t have to do anything.”
And with that, he is effectively done. “Zelda’s” Scott Fitzgerald may not be a second-rate novelist — although it’s unclear what kind of writer he is — but he is a third-rate husband. We know her story ends tragically, while “Zelda” foreshadows that he’s one of the reasons why.
While beautiful to look at — some of this was filmed in Wading River, near Herod Point — “Zelda” can also feel like that TV biopic we’ve all seen before: The one that trudges dutifully along without adding much depth or subtlety in the process. Neither Zelda nor Fitzgerald emerge as complex characters, with hidden lives, or hidden pathologies. They’re dull and — compounding that — on a long bender, too.
BOTTOM LINE Check out “Zelda” for the beautiful scenes along the North Shore but don’t expect an especially compelling portrait to match.