Tuesday, April 9, 2019

REVIEW: 'Fosse/Verdon' - Bob Needs Gwen's Help to Achieve His Vision as a Director in 'Life Is A Cabaret'

FX's Fosse/Verdon - Episode 1.01 "Life Is A Cabaret"

Spanning five decades, the drama explores the singular romantic and creative partnership between Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon.

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of FX's Fosse/Verdon.

"Life Is A Cabaret" was directed by Thomas Kail with story by Steven Levenson & Thomas Kail and teleplay by Steven Levenson

This premiere opens with a big highlight of what Bob Fosse is hoping to do with his dazzling turn as a director. This hour features numbers from his film adaptations of Sweet Charity and Cabaret. Both films will have wildly different successes for him professionally. Right now though, there is a clear sense of desperation on Fosse's part. He is constantly seeking to be the best. He believes himself to be a creative genius who is so often misunderstood by the world at large. The show is much more skeptical about that claim. He presents as a tortured man who is constantly depressed by his life and troubled by his own past. He is so eager to prove his own skills and success while also being deeply insecure and lashing out at the world. He has such a close and intimate partnership with Gwen Verdon. And yet, he still seeks out extramarital affairs. Those appear to be open secrets as well. Gwen doesn't condone them at all. But she also knows exactly what kind of behavior he will get into when he is far away from her. She understands Bob better than anyone else in the world. The structuring device of this show will bounce back and forth in time outlining how much life is left for Bob Fosse. That almost makes too much of the focus on him. And yes, that is certainly the case in this episode. There is the problem of him coming across as the latest troubled artist who seeks sex to mask his deep insecurities. There is nothing inherently compelling about that conceit anymore because it has been done so many times throughout various mediums over the years. Gwen is the truly fascinating character throughout all of this. This is clearly Bob's story. He's the one experiencing these traumatic flashes of memory of what his childhood was like. He was constantly being told that he will never be the best. He can easily be replaced no matter what. He was performing in front of people who didn't want to see some kid tap dancing on the stage. He struggles to connect with people and communicate exactly what he wants. That's what made him and Gwen such a passionate and successful pairing. She is willing and able to express everything that he is trying to get across. The opening number reveals just how seamless the pair can be when they are acting in sync. They see the world through the same lens. They don't think about cutting one of the dancers as a personal slight against the performer. They just see it as in the best interest of the picture that will ultimately make for the best shot. They are all about the creative process. But it's also immediately apparent that Gwen has been stifled in this way with Bob actually reinforcing that. He challenges the notion that him and Gwen working together is all that either of them can do in this business. They have created great pieces of art together. They are a team any studio would be eager to work with. However, they both want to spread their wings and show what they are capable of doing. Gwen is just the one forced to stay at home and give up projects while Bob will fight for any opportunity no matter how much it could cost him in the end. He is also more than willing to admit when he needs Gwen's help. He understands and reaches out to her even with another woman in his bed. In that moment, it's all about them and understanding what is needed. When Gwen shows up on the set of Cabaret, the atmosphere completely changes. The producers are no longer worried about what Bob is trying to do and how he is wasting time with so many rehearsals and changes to the design. When it all comes together, people can see the greatness taking shape. That has to be attributed to both Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon. The show is also keenly aware that their story is so much more complex than who gets the credit and who gets left behind. They stay connected as long as they are both alive. Their legacy still stands to this day. As such, it will remain very interesting to watch as the show continues to peel back the layers of this couple. Hopefully, the future will unmask some new characteristics that don't seem so familiar and problematic.