Monday, June 24, 2019

TV REVIEW: Showtime's 'The Loudest Voice'

Showtime will debut its newest original limited series The Loudest Voice on Sunday, June 30 at 10/9c. The series stars Russell Crowe, Sienna Miller, Seth MacFarlane, Simon McBurney, Annabelle Wallis, Aleksa Palladino and Naomi Watts.

Read on for my thoughts on the political series after screening its first four episodes.

This year will see the release of two projects depicting the rise and fall of Roger Ailes' tenure at Fox News. The limited series on Showtime gets the leg up on the feature film by airing first this summer. Both projects aspire to tell different aspects of this story in ways that are already seeming to contradict each other in the press. One asserts that certain players were important while the other says that other people were even more critical. It's a fascinating story presented by Hollywood in the hopes of better understanding the rise and strength of the conservative movement over the past 20 years. Ailes is critical to that development. He was forced out of Fox News due to serious allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse. It came at a time when the public actually started believing women - long after some of these stories had first become public. However, The Loudest Voice actually intends to tell the life story of Roger Ailes. He is the towering presence of this show. It's not fundamentally about the events that lead to his ouster from the cable news channel a year before his ultimate death. Sure, it will eventually get to that point because it is very important to the story. The series opens with the reassurance of Roger Ailes dying in 2017. That creates the understanding that all of this could be seen as a cautionary tale and one that still has major consequences to this day. And yet, the majority of the first four episodes depicts how this one man defined an entire company and pushed for a very specific, conservative agenda that came to define the news that most Americans came to be watching every single day.

Academy Award winner Russell Crowe dons a ton of prosthetic makeup in order to transform into the infamous media mogul. He is unrecognizable in the role. That allows him to fall deep into the character. That is crucial to the structure of the series because the show is largely focused on how his reactions in any given moment actually force the conversation of the country forward. It opens with the idea that he really was a genius who understood how television worked and the tools that could be best manipulated in order to sway public opinion. It's very cynical and yet effectively told. Of course, there are various molds the show is aspiring to do with this storytelling. One portion of it is just a fact-based journey into the ins and outs of starting Fox News in 1996. It explores how the editorial decisions in the aftermath of 9/11, the lead-up to the war in Iraq and the election of Barack Obama came to define the politics and agenda now seen on the network. Another section of the show details the despicable and twisted behavior that led to Roger Ailes being forced out of the company. Those aspects are actually very hit-or-miss. The first two episodes depict the sexually abusive actions as this tawdry thing in which the audience shouldn't linger too long on it. The next two go into it with more detail but not in a way that offers a ton of insight into what was going on in the minds of the young women subjected to this kind of sexually inappropriate behavior. And finally, the show features Crowe delivering these epic speeches in the hopes of rallying the opinion of his staff and the public at large into believing what he is selling. In that regard, the show doesn't really sell it as a genuine call to arms. It mostly presents as one man's rants against a system that doesn't adhere to his perspective of a wealthy and white America. It's hard to get a good read on why people not only support Roger's various decisions but actually encourage them and partake in them as well. In the end, it's mostly a series in which the psyche of Roger Ailes is analyzed in phenomenal detail while leaving everyone else as a curious question mark.

Moreover, the politics of the piece build up what any non-Fox News viewer may think about the network, its executives and its hosts. It suggests that everyone there truly is as cynical and depraved as they present as on camera and in various interviews. There really isn't a whole lot of room for political nuance in this piece. That's not inherently bad or wrong. The show doesn't want to sympathize with too many characters. Everyone is responsible for some heinous behavior that happens across the passage of time. Every episode basically depicts a year in the life of this network. It's a fledging success in the early going after a year of uncertainty in getting off the ground. It is then propelled forward by the 9/11 attacks and the close partnership and messaging with the Bush administration. And finally, it becomes a dominant piece of the culture with the arrival of Obama as the ultimate heel. It's a simple understanding of the current state of politics in this nation. It doesn't really aspire to do much more than that. The writing does the details justice. Crowe gives a successful performance behind all of the prosthetics. There is every intention of Naomi Watts doing the same with her portrayal of Gretchen Carlson. However, Watts only appears briefly in the third and fourth episodes. As such, the majority of her story is coming in the episodes that have yet to be sent out for review. So, it remains unclear just how bitting and powerful the story will ultimately be in the hopes of delivering some grand message to an audience that is already predisposed to the spine-tingling and gross ways of Roger Ailes. It is a captivating story told in a way that places the audience in the absolute middle of this particular world. There was just the potential for a more dizzying array of confusion and misinformation that could have taken place in the extreme version of this story. It's truthful and grounded. It's still absurd as well despite the major repercussions that have come from Roger Ailes wanting to tell people how to feel about the world instead of knowing the specific details of the news. That truly is the legacy that lives on beyond scandal and death.