Sunday, July 30, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Last Tycoon' - Christmas Forces Everyone to Realize What They Want in 'A Brady-American Christmas'

Amazon's The Last Tycoon - Episode 1.06 "A Brady-American Christmas"

Monroe encourages Kathleen to join Lang's secluded rehearsal, leaving him alone on Christmas Eve to contemplate his choices. Pat hopes for a Christmas miracle as he schemes to boost ticket sales for Angels on the Avenue. Kathleen must pay a sinister price for stardom. Rose helps Kitty prepare for a dangerous surgery. Celia and Max are brought closer by tragedy.

It's always strange when a streaming show produces a holiday episode even though it won't be airing anywhere near the actual holiday. Christmas episodes can be watched outside of Christmastime. It's just slightly startling to see an hour all about Christmas on a show airing in the middle of July. It's strange but not all that damaging either. In fact, the idea of the holiday really forces some interesting issues on The Last Tycoon. Everyone is having an identity crisis at this stage of the season. Monroe finds himself all alone. He doesn't feel like he belongs as either a Jew or a Christian. He's the outsider with no one to spend time with because he sends Kathleen away to work with Fritz Lang for the upcoming movie. Meanwhile, Pat is struggling with whether he's a successful studio boss or a fraud who's been fooling everyone for a long time. Rose has to decide which of the men in her life she really loves and if she regrets anything that she has done in these relationships. And Celia has to decide whether her romantic feelings for an unobtainable man are getting in the way of her being with a sweet, nice guy who is actually interested in her. It's probably the most thematically linked episode of the season so far. That's very much appreciated. Plus, the overall story is simple enough without too many big ideas thrown on top of it.

Of course, The Last Tycoon was always going to produce a Christmas episode because Angels of the Avenue was positioned as one of the three films that could turn the studio around. All of the hopes and dreams of the studio rested on this film being a hit. It needed to be completely reworked after a horrible first screening. It was a passion project of Pat's that fell completely flat. Monroe needed to come in and fix everything. He's been working on it tirelessly throughout the season. And now, it has been released. Pat is obsessed over the figures. He needs audiences to come out and support the film. He needs it to be a big hit. And yet, he's so easy to write it off as a failure after the first day of showings doesn't go well. That again feels like a very timely commentary on the current state of the movie business. In 2017, if a film fails to catch fire and wide audiences in its first day of opening, then it's destined to be a massive flop. The window for movie successes is getting increasingly narrow. But back in the 1930s, films had the time to last and catch on. It's not surprising in the slightest that strong world of mouth leads to the film ultimately being a success for the studio. The show plays it as a Christmas miracle. It's just way to manipulative and predictable to be all that successful.

And yet, it's still fascinating to see Pat absolutely defeated because he believes his studio is finished after this massive flop. Kelsey Grammer and Rosemarie DeWitt have been great on this show even though their material is largely just good. Pat's breakdown is emotional and genuine because of Grammer's performance. He believes he has failed. He's failed his business and he's failed his family. He doesn't know what the future will bring. Louis Mayer has proven him right and kicked him out as a movie man. He's failed and potentially put his family at financial risk after putting so much into the studio. There's the doubt that Rose may not be the encouraging wife she needs to be in that moment because of how distant they've been for a long time. She has an incredibly strong moment earlier in the episode telling her young hospital patient about her affair. Her relationship with Monroe was full of love and manipulation. She risked it all as well. It didn't come to explode in her face but it could have. She still would have made the same choices though because she loved how it all felt. But that doesn't mean she no longer loves Pat. She still does. He can be dismissive of her and her dreams. And yet, there is still a spark there in their marriage. They still support and love each other. That's moving to see. Even in defeat, they are there for each other no matter what the future might bring.

That's clearly the dynamic that Monroe wants. He spends this holiday all alone. This season has proven that he is capable of separating the personal from the professional. That's what makes him a good producer. But in this moment, he's a good producer and a bad boyfriend. He tells Kathleen to go do her job instead of being there for him during the holiday. It's a decision he only comes to regret later on because he has nowhere else to go to fill his life with joy and happiness. There is an emptiness to his world outside of Kathleen. Yes, he has this successful job. He's very good at it. But there's no work for him to do now. Instead, he is faced with an evening of isolation. He's not wanted at a fancy Hollywood party because the host doesn't think Jews celebrate Christmas. His call home to his mother is awkward because of the time difference. He wanted solace and understanding from her. He wanted to share that he was finally happy again. But he's not a good son. He doesn't talk with his mother a lot. It's been five months since their last conversation. Plus, the life he has in Hollywood comes at the expense of his family. He changed his name because he was ashamed of it and didn't think it could lead to success in the movies. To his mother, that makes him seem disingenuous. It's a performance that isn't real but he's tricked himself into believing it is. That's the true tragedy of his life. The only place he can be is with the Bradys. But his complicated relationships with them keep it from being a happy celebration. They want to enjoy the holiday away from him in the hopes of improving their lives. But there he still is. He shows up at the most awkward of times.

All of this leads to Monroe asking Kathleen to marry him. It's a spur of the moment thing because he has time to reflect on how important she has become in his life. And yet, it's a complicated final scene because the show reveals what Kathleen's big secret is. It's all been a trick in order to get a successful career. Her agent told her to put on this performance in order to draw sympathy from Monroe by reminding him of his dead wife. The agent is a real douche whom everyone in the industry hates. But it still feels like a massive betrayal that everything we know about Kathleen has been a lie. It could prove how great an actress she really is. Her agent is impressed. But she actually feels more conflicted. That's because her relationship with Monroe has been genuine. She does love him. And yet, the deeper those feelings grow the more it will hurt when she finally does tell him the truth. He believes he knows her. He loves Kathleen. He loves the woman she is and what she brings out within him. He cherishes it and needs her in his life. The audience can still have sympathy for Kathleen. The scene in which Fritz Lang forces her to keep eating in order to become a better actress is horribly abusive and brutal to watch. It's him belittling her for such a small detail to show just how controlling he will be on the set. This is what she has to look forward to as an actress in this film. That makes it easy to sympathize with her. But the audience should feel conflicted as well because of the eventual reveal about her true identity. It's a twist that is bound to come out by the end of the season. It also makes all of the parallels at the start of the season between Kathleen and Minna even more forced. That was the point but calling attention to it was still lousy.

Some more thoughts:
  • "A Brady-American Christmas" was written by Julia Cox & Katie Robbins and directed by Stacie Passon.
  • The grand reveal with Kathleen is also a bit puzzling because it means that Dominique McElligott's real-life accent is the fake one in the context of the show. That's just weird. So now, she has to do an American accent which seems like a little too needlessly complicated.
  • Celia says that this upcoming year is going to be the year that she stops fantasizing about Monroe. That seems like a very good New Year's Resolution. It shows a level of maturity in her that is much appreciated. She believes it because it's getting in the way of her dynamic with Max where romantic feelings are starting to grow as well. That scene of her picturing their date is sweet but pretty cruel in the end too.
  • And of course, Celia really does have feelings for Max. She cares about him and would like to date him. She rushes to his side once he ends up in the hospital on Christmas. And yet, that subplot is a little too random. His siblings were inspired by the movie but their actions ultimately get Max beat up for coming across as a bad guy.
  • Pat happens to be color blind. Is that a detail that will ever be important again? Or is it just important for the sake of Rose's story? It means that she involved him in her own deception. She corrupted this nurturing task of helping him pick out his clothes by using it to cheat on him with his business partner. That's very cruel. At least she's aware of that though.
  • Hackett takes Hannah to church with him. He performs in the choir once a year. That's an odd detail. Does this church just not have a choir for the rest of the year? Does the choir just allow him to show up this one time and have a solo? It's much more important that Hannah leaves because it's too much of a reminder of the life she left behind.

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.