Updated: May 28
With a track record that includes Glee, American Horror Story, and Feud, Ryan Murphy puts his own fantasy spin on movie history in his project called Hollywood. Setting the story in nineteen forty-eight, Murphy and his co-creators imagine a world where an openly gay Rock Hudson finds work, while non-whites like Anna Mae Wong manage to win Oscars. The series is more “wishtory” than history” with Murphy sending a positive message that favors equal opportunity. Hard to argue against that goal, though unlike Quentin Tarantino’s revised set of events for the movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Murphy’s world requires bigger credibility leaps. After all, the current “Me Too” world where cries of “Oscars So White” abound shows a frustrating lack of progress, making it difficult to imagine a nineteen forties society moving forward so rapidly. While Tarantino also invented characters and changed endings for real people in his Hollywood, much action seems in line with its times. Most of Tarantino’s story feels believable even though facts show otherwise. In contrast, Murphy happily wallows in the unreal—his American Horror series proves that with its mix of existing places and supernatural characters. Murphy frequently invents action for real people, and not always to their liking, as the hundred-plus-year-old Oscar winning actress Olivia De Havilland showed with a formal lawsuit against Murphy’s presentation of her in the series Feud. But with glee—the emotion, not his show—Murphy once again enthusiastically mixes fact and fiction, creating a world of extremes where everyone looks beautiful in stylized, dynamic, and perfect lighting designed for happy endings. Sex plays a big role, and the series draws from memoirs of a man who claimed to set up trysts for some of the industry’s biggest stars. Sadly, the sex antics feel more real than the story’s noble fancy of a world where open-minded diversity wins. But then, Hollywood the place always drew on fantasy, and Hollywood the series follows suit in a risqué and entertaining manner. The show streams on Netflix.