Mar 6, 2017

Channel Surfing: Feud:: Bette and Joan - "Pilot"

Scene from Feud: Bette and Joan
Welcome to a new column called Channel Surfing, in which I sporadically look at current TV shows and talk about them. These are not ones that I care to write weekly recaps for and are instead reflections either on the episode, the series, or particular moments. This will hopefully help to share personal opinions as well as discover entertainment on the outer pantheon that I feel is well worth checking out, or in some cases, shows that are weird enough to talk about, but should never be seen.
There doesn't seem to be a better intersection of Ryan Murphy's current interests than that of Feud: Bette and Joan. While more known for his campy horror series American Horror Story, his recent Emmy-winning success of American Crime Story has shown his ability to take stunt casting to historical dramas. It only makes sense then that he would blend this all together to create a portrait of one of the most notorious events in Classic Hollywood history: the feud between actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Both considered darlings of the industry, they personally hated each other, and this series means to explore it as it relates to the classic What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?.
To summarize, the 60's horror film was a passion project that went awry because of Crawford and Davis' hatred of each other. While the film showed spats and abuses between the characters, it also was present on set, with Davis notoriously being very abusive to her co-star. It's the stuff of legends, and made more impressive given how similar the catty stars were. Both had a mouth on them that would insult anyone that they found less than professional. The series even features a scene where Davis (Susan Sarandon) casually insults her All About Eve co-star Marilyn Monroe at an awards ceremony merely for being too sexually attractive.
The series is edgy, and embraces the profanity that Murphy helped to usher in. It's a demented look into a production that may not maintain its novelty for an entire season. However, there are good odds that the real magic will take shape in the way that all Murphy shows do. It will appear in the performances between Sarandon and Jessica Lange (Joan Crawford), who already have a defensive animosity towards each other. It may take awhile to get used to their portrayals of the icons, but it becomes delightful once it clicks. The first episode doesn't get too far into the production of the film, but it shows just how much things need to go right for the film not to be seen as a failure. By the end, it's only clear because history has shown it to be.
So, what hurdles lie ahead? There's plenty to mill from the gossip columns and the various actors who add narrative additions to the story. It's an example of Classic Hollywood being played for melodrama, and the odds are that there will be more swell tips like how Davis came up with her famous Kabuki-style make-up design for her character. With that said, it's an interesting story that shows how productions can build to be about more than art. They can be about ego and deception. Even if everything seems nice right now, there's no telling what lies ahead. After all, this is a show called Feud. Something nasty is going to happy, and one can only hope it's as demented as the Robert Aldrich film that inspired this series.
Beyond the show, there's plenty to ask what Feud will be in the years to come. Will it be a series based around Hollywood spats, or will there be an expansion to explore feuds in other areas of celebrity? It isn't entirely clear, but Murphy definitely started his latest series off on the right note, creating smart casting choices all around while managing to mix fact with camp with reverence. It's yet to be seen if he's able to land all three at once, though separately he is usually a pro. That will be part of the fun, especially since there's not much spontaneous randomness that he can fall back on to make the story of Bette and Joan into something as crazy as American Horror Story.

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