Friday, July 28, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Last Tycoon' - A Film Preview Doesn't Go Well for Monroe and Pat in 'Nobody Recasts Like Monroe'

Amazon's The Last Tycoon - Episode 1.02 "Nobody Recasts Like Monroe"

Monroe's personal life heats up as he pursues Kathleen, who pushes against the idea of being a replacement for Minna. Pat's pet project has a devastating debut, forcing him to accept Monroe's help. Celia gets cozy in her role as producer, so Hackett takes it upon himself to give her an education.

In the series premiere of The Last Tycoon, I complained that too often the drama was familiar and predictable. A collection of a dozen tropes played out on various cable dramas over the years. That quality is still apparent in the show in "Nobody Recasts Like Monroe." And yet, the show is trying to strike out and establish itself as its own thing as well. That's very much appreciated. It's necessary too in order for the audience to come to understand and empathize with these characters. But it also seems like the story also has a ton of story details about this time period in this particular business that it's interested with. As such, the main narrative is starting to get a little crowded and chaotic. Too many ideas can be a dangerous thing. The balance needs to be just right in order for it all to work. So now in addition to Pat and Monroe fighting over Celia and dealing with Nazi censors, the show is also tackling the economic state of America in the 1930s as it pertains to Hollywood, the violent state of affairs in the effort to unionize and the brutal business that comes from screening a film and needing to change everything. It's a lot of plot to handle. As such, some characters get tossed to the side and become the byproduct of weird continuity errors (more on that in the bullet points below). And yet, this still feels like the show heading in the right direction in order to create a story that is unique to itself instead of just copying from better shows.

Of course, romance remains a priority for the series as well. Monroe still has three women obsessing over him. He's only interested in one - Kathleen. But both Rose and Celia are pining after him and forcing him to act because of it. The flirtations with Rose and Celia are fairly minor and not all that nuanced. With Celia, it plays as a harmless crush. She has this idea of falling in love with the man of her dreams. It's a fantasy that seems unlikely to become a reality - largely because the show already seems to be introducing Mark as a new love interest for her. Meanwhile, Rose already seems to be aware of how toxic this relationship with Monroe really is. This hour tries to do a better job providing context for this dynamic after it was only barely introduced in the series premiere. Of course, it's better not to think too much about it because it doesn't seem destined to last. The action shows that she was there to comfort Monroe after Minna died. And then, they both used each other in order to feel the emotions that have been deprived from their lives as of late. But now that Monroe is dating Kathleen, Rose seems a little jealous and spiteful. That's not all that interesting. Fortunately, the show seems aware of that. She still comes over to Monroe's house hoping to seduce him. But that moment also plays as a wake up call that this isn't healthy and she needs to find something better to fill this emptiness in her life. She mentions to her husband that she wants to write and paint. He scoffs at that. But it's clear that she needs something to fulfill her life because she's not like the other studio wives.

So, these two romantic dynamics largely seem to be going away at the moment. That allows the show to focus more on Monroe's relationship with Kathleen. That's good. It simplifies the story and makes it easy for the show to invest in the two of them as a couple not worrying about him hurting her by being with someone else too. Kathleen comes across as a newcomer to this world. She's the point-of-entry character for the audience as well. She's experiencing all of this along with the audience. She came to Hollywood to be an actress but gave up those dreams quickly after she arrived. She's not seducing Monroe in order to get a part. Instead, she's genuinely interested in him despite his flaws. Of course, his personality can be very destructive as well. Kathleen wants to be the supportive girlfriend who comforts Monroe after the movie screening flops. But instead, he's taking charge of the situation and figuring out how to fix the film before it debuts. He's at work already which gives Kathleen a peak at how ruthless he is in that world. He's that way for a reason. Someone has to make these hard calls. It's not personal to him at all. But he can so easily fire someone from a job and replace them. It places doubts in Kathleen's head about their relationship. If he can do this at work, then what's he like in a romantic relationship? Will he be looking to "recast" as soon as things start to sour? She's right to have these fears. And yet, she gets over them pretty quickly as soon as Monroe shows up at her door saying he's willing to be in a relationship with her. He's not looking to replace the woman he lost. That's not completely earned but it is sweeping in a grand, emotional way that the audience could get invested in.

Elsewhere, Celia is an audience surrogate as well. She's not completely new to this world like Kathleen is. But she's still pretty naive about the inner workings of this business. Pat wants his daughter to find a different profession not because of the brutal decisions he makes but because he knows how hard it can be to succeed in the movies. But it could also play as him trying to protect her from the abuse that comes from the massive studio system. The rich control this world. They have the power and influence to beat someone up just for saying the word "union." They have the ability to fire someone just because they got injured. There's no true regard for workers' rights. Celia wants to believe that her father wouldn't do something like that. And yet, Pat hasn't been the most moral character on the show so far. He seems genuine when he tells Celia he protects his workers. But he could be misguided sitting at the top of this system. He could be completely clueless as to what's happening at the bottom of his business. The workers have a far better understanding of that. As such, Celia is hoping to get close to them in order to truly understand why they are so upset and afraid. Sure, it's questionable how she'll be able to juggle two jobs at the same time. But it's also aspirational because she wants to do the right thing and protect people who work hard for the studio.

Of course, all of this requires a studio in order to be interesting and important. It's unlikely that the show would bankrupt this business in only its second episode. But that's also a serious threat when the bank calls in the loan on the studio. The economics of the country are forcing Pat and Monroe to deal with the harsh financial realities of their business. They need a hit. It's crushing that Pat's film isn't that. It will need a ton of reworking. Monroe needs to step up and do that. Monroe seems to be the guy who actually has the charm and the skills to actually keep the studio alive. Pat built the place but he's also less confident with his negotiating skills. His name is on the building but Monroe is the reason they are taken seriously in the business. Pat is out to prove that he is a legitimate movie man. He doesn't need to rely on Monroe in order to succeed. Of course, that's also proven to be correct by the end of this episode. It's up to Monroe to save Brady American from the evil Nazis. He approaches Louis B. Mayer not for a job but for a loan. The studio needs money right now in order to survive. It's a huge favor. One that seemingly works too because of Monroe's charms. But one that could provide interesting complications for the business and narrative moving forward.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Nobody Recasts Like Monroe" was directed by Billy Ray with teleplay by Billy Ray and story by Billy Ray & Christopher Keyser.
  • So, Max shows up for his first day of work at the studio. He's at a lost and also amazed by the production. He's told to go to wardrobe and get a suit that makes him look presentable. And then, he just vanishes for the majority of the episode. He appears the next day finally asking for a suit once Celia starts working there. Did it really take him a day just to find that place on set?
  • Pat also has a meeting with Mayer early in the episode asking to have one of his contracted stars appear in his next passion project film. It doesn't work out even though Pat has the confidence to say that he slept with the actress who will struggle to convincingly play a nun.
  • Hackett introduces Celia to the underground world of unionizing. He takes her to the meeting so she can learn the realities of the business and not be blinded by her father's beliefs. But then, trouble quickly arises and Hackett hurts his hand fending it off. That means he'll be even slower as a writer when Monroe needs him to type quickly.
  • Rose hurts her hand as well. She cuts it when she breaks a picture Monroe still has of Minna next to his bed. She breaks it because she's upset. Monroe still tends to her injuries. He's still a good guy who respects women in that respect. But it's also the moment that forces her to realize that things need to change for her.
  • So what does Tomas actually do at the studio? He comes across as a guy Pat can confide in who isn't Monroe. He has his trust. But Pat also asks him to find out why their banker wants a private meeting and Tomas just never follows through with that information. So what good is he ultimately?

As noted in previous reviews from this show, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.