These fictional creations cross paths with real life historic figures throughout the series, some for a one-note gag like Vivien Leigh (Kate McGuinness), and some as major supporting characters like future icon Rock Hudson (Jake Picking). In ’47, Rock’s new in town and about to become the latest beefcake apple of his real-life talent agent Henry Willson’s eye (a phenomenal Jim Parsons). But Hudson’s also partaking in a romantic affair with fictional character Archie Coleman (Jeremy Pope), a would-be African American screenwriter who is making ends meet by moonlighting as a gigolo alongside fellow Hollywood aspirant Jack Castello (David Corenswet). The name of their gas station/bordello? Dreamland, of course.
At a glance, you might guess the end point of their stories, and the fate of most dreams for a world still nearly 20 years from Selma, never mind Stonewall, but when they come together while crossing paths with an older and serendipitously woke generation of closeted producers and sympathetic studio heads… well, this may not go how you expect.
Undoubtedly there will be many comparisons made in the coming weeks between Netflix’s Hollywood and Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. Without spoiling anything that isn’t in the new show’s trailer, they’re both historical fictions, and they’re both ultimately fairy tales for their creators to imagine what a better world would look like to them. One might even wonder if Murphy and Brennan are hoping to use old school Hollywood glamour as a metaphor for the credit they think shows like Glee and Modern Family deserve for shaping 21st century values.
But then that’s the key difference between Murphy’s Hollywood and Tarantino’s take on the town. One is trying to live in its period setting (to the point where it can be fairly grilled for misrepresenting historic figures like Bruce Lee), and the other is just playing dress up. That and Tarantino had the gracefulness to not follow his flights of fancy beyond Sharon Tate’s driveway. By comparison, Hollywood is as if we witnessed Rick Dalton become godfather to Sharon’s baby, talked her husband into changing the end of Chinatown to something more life-affirming, and then coached Sharon to acclaim by playing Anne Frank, Nazi Hunter Extraordinaire.
For that is how big Murphy and Brennan swing with Hollywood, and it’s by how much they miss the pitch. Because for every character that mostly works, such as Pope’s idealized version of James Baldwin, who in real life was a brilliant black author who struggled as a screenwriter trying to play in the white industry’s game, there are multiple lead characters in the show who are never developed beyond the most basic idea of what they’re supposed to represent. Harrier’s Camille is the would be leading lady who many will fight to put in the top bill of a movie, and yet Camille herself is as sidelined and underdeveloped a characterization in the actual series as the parts real life Lena Horne was saddled with for her glorified walk-on cameos as the lounge act in white-led movies. And for not one second will you believe any of the younger and exceedingly anachronistic characters were part of the WWII generation.