Saturday, July 29, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Last Tycoon' - Pat Woos a Movie Star to Save His Studio in 'More Stars Than There Are In Heaven'

Amazon's The Last Tycoon - Episode 1.03 "More Stars Than There Are In Heaven"

With Pat's back against the wall, he proves his worth as a studio head in pursuing film star Margo Taft. Monroe must manage two demanding bosses. Rose seeks a new outlet in her life. Celia forms a connection with office boy, Max. Monroe's relationship with Kathleen blossoms as they let their guard down.

The Last Tycoon certainly gets a shot of exciting energy in "More Stars Than There Are In Heaven" thanks to a guest performance by Jennifer Beals. She's pretty fun and alluring to watch as movie star Margo Taft. She represents a different kind of energy in this world. An energy that proves to be very electric as it bounces off of Pat and Monroe. She's a fine addition to this world. And yet, this episode also feels extremely sluggish in parts. Some stories are really starting to stall without a whole lot of forward momentum to them. This hour can feel lively whenever Beals is on the screen. Plus, Matt Bomer and Kelsey Grammer are still bringing solid performances and gravitas to the material. But the question of who the audience should really be caring about still persists. That's starting to become a problem three episodes into the season. It still feels like the show is in setup mode. But it also feels like it's just jumping from plot to plot in the hopes that it will all come together and make sense in the end. In a way, that's the perfect energy for a studio atmosphere as it's also clamoring for a hit while developing a number of projects at the same time with no idea what the final product will be. It's truthful but also very chaotic as a story for a television show.

There are even some problematic parts to the Margo story as well. It works because it's so empowering to see a movie star in control of her career. It feels out of place in this particular time in this particular business though. But it also feels rewarding simply given the audience's awareness of how sexist the Hollywood industry can be. She's in charge of her own life. She only meets with studio executives if she believes they can give her more than she already has. She wants them to make promises and then actually deliver on them. Pat is the latest to visit her promising the world. And then, he actually delivers on some of them. But the finances continue to be a major plot point this season. Pat and Monroe needed to get a loan from Louis B. Mayer in order to keep the studio open. They feel indebted to him. He's only willing to finance three movies. If they are hits, then they can talk about expanding their relationship. So, it feels like a limiting time for Pat and Monroe. That could be freeing. It could give them time to fill their lives elsewhere. But it can also be a stressful time for them because they need these three movies to be hits in order to stay in this business. They need a movie star like Margo to sign on. That will prove that they are still to be taken seriously in Hollywood.

But again, there's an overwhelming feeling that Margo is out of place in time. It can be distracting. It feels like the show's creative team wanting to do a commentary about the sexist nature of Hollywood and how it plays to the current state of affairs in 2017. They accomplish that mostly by flipping the script and having Margo demand to see a director's penis before production begins. It's a very weird demand. It's sexist but untraditional as well. The show believes it's being cute because it's drawing attention to the fact that it's not being a purposefully sexist show in order to comment on how things were then and how little things have changed now. It wants to aspire to more. It may not be realistic but it's the version of events that the show would like to imagine. It's just a little too silly to actually work - especially since Margo has no intention of making the directors actually go through with it. She's a much more compelling character when she's asking to receive a percentage of the film's profits. That feels very relevant to the story and the overall themes of the narrative. Pat and Monroe are struggling because of money. Margo can help them bounce back but it's going to cost them as well. She knows how to play this game. She can be subtle when she needs to be and really blunt as well. She can manipulate the situation just as well as Pat and Monroe can. They can see this as a victory but they also need to be wary about having this woman around the lot for the foreseeable future.

All of that is a very progressive message for the show. And yet, it also reinforces a lot of things through its characterizations of Pat as well. Of course, that's the point too. He's meant to be a character who fits into the time. As such, he's sleeping with any attractive woman near him while also demeaning the kind of work his wife and daughter want to be doing. Those actions allow Margo to have that biting final line to Monroe about this not really being a respectful workplace at all. Pat ensures that with his behavior. He's a towering presence who demands to get what he wants. He's always trying to prove that he doesn't need help from Monroe to get talent or save the studio. But Monroe is the one everyone seems to desire. That puts Pat in an interesting position to prove he is still relevant. Monroe is still loyal to him. He hasn't left for a studio job elsewhere. Of course, Monroe is actually putting in the work to ensure all of the productions are running smoothly. That's a sly manipulation of his that is intriguing to watch. He knows how to tell people exactly what they need to hear in order to continue working and create a solid product. He can be nurturing when the situation calls for it. He can also be very blunt and forceful - even if it's a child he's talking to. He's the one putting out fires and having the foresight to know where problems might occur. Pat is largely in the world of the studio heads with his pride. He may be risking it all by funding a movie with his own money. But it's a risk that could work out for him in the end.

And finally, the show's romances are starting to get a little too conflicting. Monroe and Kathleen is the traditional story. It's the kind of romantic story that is simple and easy to follow and get invested in. They have a nice push-and-pull quality to their dynamic that is really endearing while also making each of them nuanced characters. Kathleen doesn't want anything from Monroe. That's a refreshing quality about her because Monroe is used to be defined by what he can give people. That's why he is drawn to her. She still ultimately takes a job at the studio. She'll be working as a tour guide. That will give her more opportunities to run into Monroe. But it also means she'll run into the other characters more frequently as well. But again, it's a romance worth investing in because the show is putting in the effort to make them a couple with a nuanced relationship. It's just terribly undercut by the continuing pinning that Celia has for Monroe. It's a story that seemed like it was becoming less essential in the previous episode. But now, Monroe and Kathleen have sex for the first time at the house he is building on the beach. That sequence is immediately followed by Celia fantasizing about having sex with Monroe herself. So, it's two conflicting agendas and the audience gets to see both arousing scenes back-to-back. There is a stark contrast to them. One is real and one is a fantasy. But it's hard to see the purpose of it all. Celia's story outside of Monroe is perfectly fine. The show should be doing more to develop that instead of focusing on this crush which is getting more and more one-note.

Some more thoughts:
  • "More Stars Than There Are In Heaven" was directed by Julie Ann Robinson with story by Billy Ray & Christopher Keyser and teleplay by Billy Ray.
  • Max is surprised to find Celia at Pat's house. And yet, the show really hasn't spent anytime with him as a character or his dynamic with Celia for that to mean anything. They had one interaction but that was largely offscreen. It still seems flirtatious between the two of them. But not enough of the story is actually happening so the audience can see it.
  • Drug use is coming into play now as well. Margo is seen getting high before her revealing meeting with the director. But more importantly, young child star Sally Sweet is given drugs unknowingly in order to perk up. It has the unintended consequences of making her a demanding monster on set though.
  • This show could really only tolerate a screaming children for one scene. It's good that it recognizes that and doesn't make that a recurring character trait. Young Sally is entitled in a way that hinders production. And yet, that closing musical number is pretty stunning to watch. It makes it seem like Brady American may have a hit film after all.
  • There is way too much winking and nudging going on during the scenes where Monroe and Irving Thalberg run into each other at the doctor's office. It's the show calling attention to the fact that something big is about to happen to one of them (probably not the one who is the star of this show!)
  • Rose decides she's going to fulfill her life by volunteering at the local hospital. She gets the inspiration after getting drunk at lunch and needing to get checked out by a doctor. It's an intriguing story. Rose is a fascinating character. She's striving for meaning but that journey is largely taking her away from the central focus of the studio within the show. So, it could play as this weird tangent that really has nothing to do with anything else despite being pretty good.

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.