'Hollywood' Episode 2 Review: Will the newbies survive an industry run by racism, homophobia, and casting couch?
Jack Castello's pursuit to provide for his family was met with quite the disastrous fate at the end of the very pilot of Ryan Murphy's Netflix reimagination of a 1940s 'Hollywood'. In the matter of a week (read almost an hour of screentime,) David Corenswet's attractive hunk of a second world war veteran turned aspiring actor goes from waiting in line for screen tests to starting a job as a gas station employee who moonlights as a sex worker and somehow winning the most opportune clientele that involves a casting director at ACE studios, and also the wife of the studio boss.
But while getting ambushed and arrested by the cops is the only minor inconvenience he has to suffer for the night, Jack's story of a 'struggling actor' falls flat when it comes to the vehement racism and homophobia prevalent within the industry - as seen through aspiring director Raymond Ainsley (Darren Criss), established actress Anna May Wong (Michelle Krusiec), aspiring screenwriter Archie Coleman (Jeremy Pope), and Raymond's aspiring actress of a girlfriend, Camille (Laura Harrier.)
Raymond wants to direct a film with Anna as the lead for all the right reasons, the biggest one being it's title 'Angel of Shanghai'. But as his girlfriend points out later in the episode, "The way to be successful is to have success", so Raymond has to resort to going through 25 scripts centered around white people with white characters to get the green signal as a director onboard ACE Studios' next big project.
It is in Raymond's meetings with Anna and movie producer Dick, that the unabashed racism in the industry jumps out. Anna tells Raymond to stop being so naive as the only thing the audience cares about is not seeing anybody but white characters on screen. Dick, on the other hand, tells Raymond about Ana's historic screentest for 'The Good Earth' where she pretty much won over everyone but still lost the role simply because the only way to turn a film into a hit was to go ahead with a white actress. And no amount of half-Filipino director as Raymond could convince studio bosses otherwise.
When it comes to Raymond's girlfriend, Camille, she is a young black aspiring actress amidst her all-white rivals. Samara Weaving's Claire is every bit as snide and cunning as Bryce Dallas Howard's Hilly from 'The Help'. And even though Camille manages to earn the casting directors' favor through sheer talent and a little bit of a**-kissing, the first-ever screen presence she gets it that of a household, asked to do a caricature for added humor. Soon she starts getting shot down straight up to her face with casting agents saying "No, that's a white role honey", thus laying the groundwork for how difficult it must be for Archie as a black aspiring writer who also happens to be gay.
Archie is brought into Ernie's dreamland - the secret gigolo service by Jack in the pilot and his first customer happens to be Roy Fitzgerald - a series adaptation of a character believed to be based on the legendary Rock Hudson. They hit it off right from the get-go, with dialogue deliveries and other things in common paving the way for a romance that both of them know there's no point in addressing because of prejudices against gay men and interracial couples.
Their dilemma is reflected in the way Raymond and Camille don't act like a couple in public despite living together, and the longer Jack continues to succeed effortlessly, with ACE Studios even signing him on a contract, the harder these slaps of racism and homophobia feel on the others.
In all of this, the only respite is Jim Parsons' ruthless and shrewd like an eagle talent agent, the real-life Henry Wilson, who can be seen pretty much birthing Rock Hudson - the movie star. Parsons' Wilson is pretty much his Sheldon Cooper if you take out his parlay in science and infuse filmy jargon instead, and make him slightly smoother and a little more flamboyant.
His price for offering the novice 'Roy' a movie role performing oral sex on the aspiring actor, which he calls his 'thing'. No big deal. One would think casting couch was a persistent issue female aspirants were plagued with, but there's a layered equality in Murphy's rendition of the 40's Hollywood, and not even their male counterparts are safe from practically gay-Harvey Weinsteins of the world.
'Hollywood' dropped with all seven episodes on May 1, and is available for streaming only on Netflix.