Tuesday, May 21, 2019

REVIEW: 'Fosse/Verdon' - Gwen and Bob Fight to Prove They Are Still Relevant and Entertaining in 'Nowadays'

FX's Fosse/Verdon - Episode 1.07 "Nowadays"

Gwen fights to assert her own creative vision on Chicago, challenging Bob's increasingly dark approach to the musical.

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 next episode of FX's Fosse/Verdon.

"Nowadays" was written by Joel Fields & Steven Levenson and directed by Thomas Kail

This episode is all about Chicago. In many ways, it's the culmination of everything that Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse have aspired to do together. This season has put into context just how codependent they were with each other. They relied on each other for support and advice. Even when their volatile personalities clashed, they had such deep love and admiration for the work. They have been trying to get the rights to Chicago for fifteen years. Nicole wasn't even in the picture when they first discussed it. That was when Gwen was at her peak as well. She was the star of the family who was recognized everywhere she went. Bob had to tell people how to pronounce his name and what he did for a living. Bob Fosse wasn't a household name whom people respected. That changes so quickly over the years. Now, everyone is looking to Bob for his opinion on how to improve any kind of work that they happen to be doing. He is the director of Chicago and appears to be so mercurial with the choices that he is making. People put this show and their lives on hold in order to accommodate him after his heart attack. And now, he presents as a junkie who is just trying to get the drugs he desperately believes he needs. Paddy won't get them for him but a member of the chorus eager to get his praise will. Sure, it's very manipulative but that's what Bob is so easily able to do. He wields this power because he happens to be right so much of the time. It just often comes at the expense of Gwen. This episode is all about the tragedy of her finally getting to play her dream role. She has wanted this for so long. She pushed Bob into mounting this production now even though it compromised his health in some profound ways. He isn't taking care of himself to ensure that he stays alive for a long time either. In fact, his life is still heading towards tragedy. Right now though, it's all about the personal drama between them. Gwen isn't the dancer she once was. The show does such a marvelous thing in presenting the debut of this musical with the couple's younger days. And yet, the stories are connected because Gwen's experiences aren't so different across the years. She is still looked at a certain way. With the current production, Bob fears that she no longer has the skills to actually dance the part. As such, he creates choreography that works around that fact. Some of it is a massive success. One number that presents her as a ventriloquist dummy is so memorable that it's still used in the productions of the musical today. But it also comes across as Bob making a power play to take this musical away from Gwen. It's no longer the story that they share together in which Gwen is the star. They get into multiple fights about the ending. It disrupts their ability to enjoy Nicole's own dance recital. And then, it becomes a duet with Chita. The entire production team is against Bob. And yet, his vision still wins out in the end. Again, it becomes a notable part of the show that solidifies its greatness. It just presents as being less special than Gwen has believed for so long. She has been chasing this dream. This is her chance to step back into the spotlight. She guides the audience along this entire journey performing fantasy numbers from Chicago. But it's all ultimately a show that masks the true horrors and sadness underneath the surface.

Gwen is faced with this reality that she is no longer a star who deserves all the attention for the fabulous contributions she can give to the medium. She believes that she is easily replaceable with someone younger who can be even better in the role. She doesn't want to stop performing even when her own health is at risk. That's absolutely terrifying. It shows that she and Bob are cut from the same cloth. They give everything to the work even if it kills them. That means they have no room left for the other people in their lives. It means that Nicole is literally just wandering in and out without her parents even actually caring for her. They fought so hard to get pregnant in the first place. But even that highlights how Gwen is always viewed as a problem that needs to be fixed. Bob is the one who is preventing the couple from getting pregnant. He has a low sperm count. They aren't good swimmers who can fertilize an egg. The treatment at the time though was to put Gwen through a procedure to potentially help her body be more accommodating to Bob's contribution. That's horrifying and makes it so painful when she gets her period. She sees it as her continuing to fail her family. It means they look into adoption. The fantasy has Gwen putting on a razzle dazzle performance. The heart of that number is essentially putting on an entertaining show in order to distract the viewer from looking any deeper into what's truly going on. It's all an act so that Gwen and Bob can present as the best possible candidates to adopt a child. They succeed in doing so. And yet, the audience can still hear the first question from the interviewer's mouth. He wants to know how Gwen plans on taking care of a baby when she still has a thriving career. That too places so much of the burden and expectation on her and her ability to be nurturing and loving. This all presents as the way to keep this family together. One that can show off their love in a physical way. The fights and cheating don't stop just because they get pregnant and have Nicole though. In fact, Bob immediately doubts that it's his baby because he recognizes he was the problem in the first place. He doesn't trust that Gwen was faithful to him. That's the truth of this moment. Even when they should be happy that they actually did get pregnant, Bob is full of suspicions. That shows just how lacking the health care system was for so many years. It allows Bob and Gwen to get some of the treatment they deserve in the 1970s. Even then, it's not enough. Gwen still fears that there is always some shiny newcomer who is eager to be embraced by the world at large as the next great Broadway performer. Meanwhile, Bob is still convinced that the world sees him as a fraud. The two of them are constantly in each other's lives. But things remain extremely volatile to the point that it could destroy the actual work that they put on together. They can either be the stars or the shows can actually come together fully in a rewarding way. Gwen having to make that choice presents as being absolutely crushing to her. And yet, it also creates a lasting legacy that is still revered to this day.