Tuesday, May 28, 2019

REVIEW: 'Fosse/Verdon' - Bob and Paddy Discuss the Value of Change and Tragedy in Storytelling in 'Providence'

FX's Fosse/Verdon - Episode 1.08 "Providence"

Gwen looks ahead to an uncertain future, as Bob tells the story of his life on film.

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 season finale of FX's Fosse/Verdon.

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

Fosse/Verdon started with Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon mounting the film adaptation of Sweet Charity. It ends with the two of them staging a national touring revival of Sweet Charity. That is such poetic symmetry amongst the tragedy of their lives. This show was the first creative partnership between them. It brought both of them a ton of great success. And yet, this finale is not all about the creative achievements and defeats they had. They experienced a ton of those over the course of their lives. Instead, this concluding hour focuses on whether or not the two of them have actually changed. That has long been an existential question that looms over the human experience. Are people capable of change? Or are they simply who they fundamentally are no matter what? It's the debate that Bob and Paddy are having when it comes to Bob's next film. All That Jazz is a very thinly veiled take on Bob's own life. Paddy is able to put it into stark terms about the reality of his best friend's life as well as the tragedy of it all. He articulates a three-act structure for the story that includes change without it being billed as some big happy ending that makes the audience feel good at the end of it. Instead, it's a tragedy because the realization for the central character happens too late. That's the same fate that Bob is destined to have as well. He has spent a lifetime questioning the choices he has made and the actions he has taken that have hurt people. He has ruined lives while launching to such a hugely successful career. He got where he wanted to be because of the support of his creative partners. He still feared that he was never good enough. He questions others if he truly did change following his heart attack. Gwen simply explains that it enhanced who he already was. He was the same person she always recognized from their marriage. The world was just experiencing him in a slightly different way. It's the grand irony of aging and facing one's own mortality. Bob wanted to put his own life experience into a film. It once again earned him a ton of praise and attention. But again, this story isn't about that. It is to a certain degree. But it's more so about the central relationships that defined who Bob and Gwen were until the very end. They remained codependent and attached to one another. There are times where they are incredibly distant. Chicago was the end of their creative partnership because of just how bitter and destructive it became. It pushed both of them past their breaking points. It could have compromised their health in some serious ways. But they are still fundamentally drawn to each other. They both have that compulsion. They have remained in each other's lives despite all of the actions taken to hurt one another. It means their relationships with Ann and Ron respectively implode as well. Those two live on to have completely fulfilling and satisfying lives. Bob and Gwen are content as well. It just puts into stark contrast their own failings as parents and as people who are good for each other. They are icons because of the skills they brought to the entertainment world. However, their stars are much more nuanced and complicated than anyone would originally believe based on the work they created.

This is the end of the story for Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon. Bob is continually chasing the rush of acclaim. He still can't handle bad reviews. All That Jazz may be a critical and commercial hit but his follow-up film, Star 80, is a disaster. It makes him retreat to the known quality of his life. Even that is changing. Paddy has died following his own heart attack. It's so moving and bittersweet to watch Bob tap dance on Paddy's casket just like he promised he would do. It shows that this bond and friendship actually meant something. Paddy was more than just a resource to help Bob iron out the problems in his life and scripts. But again, Bob never changes. He certainly goes back to Gwen time and time again. He sees her as the greatest partner in his entire life. He still continues to pursue failed relationships that never have the potential of lasting. That's the lifestyle he is comfortable with. He views it as acceptable behavior because he has the power and influence to actually make it seem appealing. Meanwhile, Gwen is struggling to find any roles at all. She may be reduced down to performing at banquets and reminiscing about the good old days. She could venture out to Hollywood for small roles in television. That's not where she feels comfortable though. Instead, she invests fully in the touring show of Chicago and once again getting to play the role that was so challenging and complicated for her to do. She also saw the value in revisiting Sweet Charity. It is very much a symbol of the passage of time for these two. Both Bob and Gwen remember all of the steps that brought them fame and attention all those years ago. It was the beginning of a wonderful creative partnership. It just also means they are completely absent from Nicole's life and the clear struggles she is fighting. It's so tragic to read at the very end that she battles several addictions. It's rewarding to know that she has built a nice and stable life for herself while being able to honor the legacies of her parents. She escaped to the life that Gwen once imagined having with Ron. Gwen may have never been able to commit to that ideal. However, that shows the complexities of life. It rarely goes how anyone is expecting. Bob and Gwen are planning on the tour of Sweet Charity being a massive success. It ultimately is as well. It just comes with Bob dying while walking to the opening night performance in Washington, D.C. The two stayed relevant in each other's lives until the very end. There are many complicated and conflicting feelings wrapped up in that moment where it becomes clear that Gwen is saying goodbye to her husband. He hurt her in some profound ways. But he was always the person she could go to with complete trust and understanding. She relied on him in so many ways. This series highlighted the push and pull within their dynamic and how it informed the work. It ensures that the legacy left behind is just as complicated as the work they created. However, it's also a shining example of what is now possible because both Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon get the equal treatment they have long deserved.