Follow TV Tropes


Series / Hollywood (2020)

Go To
"I want to go to Dreamland."

"In two weeks, we'll either be looked at as the smartest people in Hollywood, or we'll never work again."
Avis Amberg

Hollywood is a period drama original series from Netflix, and headed by Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan.

In Post-War Hollywood, a group of filmmakers and producers aim to change racial prejudice and homophobia through the release of a single motion picture. They face backlash and boycotts to produce the film, and most theatres are threatening to pull the film. The film they aim to make, a romantic drama called Meg, features a woman of colour in the leading role, and is produced and written by a diverse crowd of people. Only time will tell if the gambit pulled off...

The cast of characters includes:

  • Jack Castello (David Corenswet): A World War II veteran who has moved to Hollywood with his wife in hopes of landing a major film role.
  • Raymond Ainsley (Darren Criss): An aspiring director who hopes to change the face of Hollywood.
  • Camille Washington (Laura Harrier): Raymond's girlfriend, an African-American actress who stars in minuscule roles, before landing the leading part in Meg.
  • Archie Coleman (Jeremy Pope): A black (and gay) screenwriter who wrote Meg.
  • Roy Fitzgerald/Rock Hudson (Jake Picking): A fictionalized version of the real life actor, who strikes up a relationship with Archie Coleman.
  • Claire Wood (Samara Weaving): The daughter of the head of Ace Studios. She campaigns for the lead role in Meg and is at first a rival to Camille.
  • Richard "Dick" Samuels (Joe Mantello): An Ace studio executive who, along with Avis, tries to get Meg released. He's also a closeted gay man.
  • Ernest "Ernie" West (Dylan McDermott): The boss at a gas station that doubles as prostitution ring. He’s struggling with health problems thanks to his excessive smoking.
  • Avis Amberg (Patti LuPone): Wife of Ace Studios' head Ace Amberg, a former actress who was cast aside thanks to her Jewish background. After her husband falls ill, she's placed in charge of Ace Studios and greenlights Meg.
  • Henry Wilson (Jim Parsons): A gay Hollywood talent agent who has a shady way of dealing with things. His clients include Rock Hudson.
  • Ellen Kincaid (Holland Taylor): A studio executive who trains young actors and acts as a mentor. She has feelings for Dick.

For the 1980 British documentary series about the silent film era, see Hollywood (1980).

Hollywood provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Deviation: In-Universe, people note that the original ending of Meg becomes a bit uncomfortable when Meg is cast as a black woman fighting against systematic oppression. This leads to the ending being changed from her killing herself to her choosing to keep living.
  • Alternate History:
    • Hollywood makes several big steps forward toward inclusivity and diversity in the 1940s which in real life didn't get much mainstream attention until The New '10s. Also Rock Hudson comes out of the closet in the 50s, something that he would never do in real life, instead dying of AIDS decades later before his sexuality was disclosed to the public.
    • Even aside from characters' actions, it appears that the show is set in a world where the various legal objections towards what they're doing just don't exist, and that systemic racism and bigotry is purely a social construct and not just a legal one. Indeed, the show seems to exist in a world where the many laws banning interracial relationships or women having legal power either do not exist or are simply ignored. The Hays Code is referenced but is seemingly not able to prevent the production of Meg, where in real life it would have shut the film down because of the code's strict rules against depicting mixed-race romances. Likewise, the series ends with a major Hollywood studio making a film about a homosexual romance; this ignores that in 1949, sodomy was still illegal in all then-48 states, including California (and it wasn't fully ended in that state until 2003), which means any gay man might well have been arrested for their public romance. In the series, though homosexual conduct is so socially repressed that gay men have to hide, this isn't legally enforced and Rock, Archie, Dick, and Ernie come out of the closet by the end without any legal consequences.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Ernie eventually settles down with Ellen, but also turns tricks with men, runs a brothel that caters to all genders and sexualities, and says he'd be interested in Henry "in another life." The latter comment was likely a joke, leaving it unclear if Ernie is personally into men himself, or if it's just practical business. He’s also shown grabbing Raymond’s butt while congratulating him on his Oscar win.
  • And the Adventure Continues: The series details the crew's struggle to get through the era-typical prejudice just to get Meg, a story written by a gay black man and starring a black woman in the leading role, produced. They succeed, and the film gets critical acclaim and lands them several Oscars, including Best Actress and Best Picture. One year later, Ace Studios greenlights the first film about a genuine homosexual romance. Though everyone is aware of the severe backlash it will get them, they are just as determined to see this film through, and the series ends on the first day of production of Dreamland.
  • Artistic License – History: Hattie McDaniel appears, to tell the story of her Oscar win, informing Camille that she was barred from the ceremony and snuck in right before her name was announced because the winners had been leaked in advance. In actuality, while the Coconut Grove nightclub was a whites-only venue, David O Selznick arranged for Hattie to sit at the ceremony for the whole night (albeit at a small, separate table from her white co-stars). It's also unlikely she knew she was the winner in advance; Olivia de Havilland clarified that Selznick knew because the winners were leaked in a phone call with some others present, but Hattie was not there.
  • The Atoner:
    • Part of the reason Dick fights so hard for Meg to be produced is because he didn't fight to cast Anna May Wong in a leading role many years ago, despite knowing she was the best actress for the part. Instead, he took the easy way out and cast a "safe," white actress, and really regrets it, leading him to vow not to make the same mistake again. Given that Meg not only gets made, but has Anna May Wong in a role that nets her an Oscar win, it's safe to say he made it up to her.
    • Henry does some really shitty things over the course of the series, but a year after Meg is released in theatres, he does try to clean up his act. This includes apologising to Rock, who he’d emotionally and sexually abused, and proposing a motion picture that features a same sex male romance, after he’d gone through careful steps to keep actor’s homosexuality hidden.
  • Bait-and-Switch: In the season finale, the cast and crew attend a funeral of a friend. At first it appears to be Ernie as his failing health and diagnosis with lung cancer had been mentioned prior. Then we pan down to see it’s Dick Samuels, who lost his life to cancer.
  • Big Bad: While the show doesn’t have a single antagonist, several studio executives and racist protesters attempt to get production on Meg shut down.
  • Bookends: The series begins with Jack, then a down-on-his-luck newcomer to Hollywood, watching a movie in a theater. The series' final shot has Jack, now an Academy Award nominated actor, filming his second movie.
  • Broken Bird: Vivien Leigh is suffering from untreated mental conditions that she is tormented by. Her marriage is also dissolving because Laurence Olivier can no longer bear her "moodiness".
  • Cast Full of Gay: Archie, Rock, Dick, and Henry all identify as gay, while Ernie is at the very least Ambiguously Bi.
  • Cast the Runner-Up: In-Universe example. Both Claire and Camille audition for the role of Meg. There is much debate over who gets the role, since Claire is white (and is Avis's daughter) while Camille is black (which would lock them out of several markets who don't want a black leading lady). Eventually, it's settled for Camille to get the part, while Claire gets cast as Meg's best friend.
  • Character Shilling:
    • Camille is very guilty of this, with everyone talking about what an incredibly talented actress she is.
    • To a lesser extent, this also applies to Jack as an actor, Raymond as a director, and Archie as a writer, given they're also supposed to be excellent at what they do and that their work on Meg is something special.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The editor who had been fired after taking exception to Henry messing up with Meg returns in the last episode to reveal he had secretly kept an extra print of the movie with Raymond's original cut, which comes in handy after the studio lawyer had the police seize and burn all the other prints.
  • Creator Couple: In-Universe, we have Camille (an up-and-coming actress) and Raymond (an up-and-coming director who is directing the film she's starring in).
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Besides the casual sexism, racism, and homophobia, which characters of varying sympathy have varying levels of tolerance of, the show's treatment of sexual exploitation in Hollywood is viewed this way. When Rock tells Archie about being abused by Henry, Archie doesn't even register it as a problem since that's just what happens in Hollywood and he himself is turning tricks to make ends meet, while Ernie, despite being a pimp who takes advantage of Jack's financial desperation to pressure him into becoming a gigolo, something that clearly traumatizes him, is depicted as almost a father figure to the young men, though part of it is helped by him undergoing a Heel–Face Turn.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Male on Male:
    • Defied though explored. Sexual exploitation is treated as something that is tragically par-the-course for Hollywood, and despite exploiting many young men, Ernie and Henry are never penalised for it. Ernie outright becomes something of a father figure to his gigolos and has a Heel–Face Turn (though, he himself never physically abuses any of them, he does financially blackmail Jack and tries to pressure him into having sex with a man), while Henry tries to become The Atoner, but he is still considered an utter scumbag. However, its effect is still seen seriously, as Jack and Rock are clearly traumatised by their experiences, with Jack becoming riddled with self-loathing and Rock later telling Henry he has nightmares about him.
    • Notably, the show shies away from exploring the sexual exploitation of women outside of Ace exploiting Jeanne for sex, who outright says that he lead her to believe her career would be over if she didn't consent. Though he suffers a somewhat near-Karmic Death, as having sex with her nearly kills him (and later, making genuine love with his wife does kill him), he's also written as just as complex a character as Henry and Ernie, and is even less of a scumbag than Henry. Ultimately, the show treats victims of exploitation as victims regardless of their gender, even if the focus is more on male victims, but in both situations it also treats the abusers as rounded characters themselves.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: A reassuring one. After Meg is released, it breaks several records and nets Camille, Archie, Anna May and the picture an Oscar win, with a slew of nominations. The movie sets off a ripple that changes Hollywood — and the world — for the better, and the series ends with the team coming together to work on another movie: a gay love story starring Jack and Rock.
  • Endearingly Dorky: Rock's a very earnest guy, which makes him utterly endearing. Part of what makes Archie fall for him is how sweet natured and awkward he is. Unfortunately, this exact trait makes Henry take advantage of him.
  • Fanservice: Being a product of Ryan Murphy, the show is not at all shy with its depictions of sex and nudity. Perhaps the most gratuitous example would be when Jack has an impromptu nude photoshoot, something that has no bearing on the rest of the plot, and was seemingly just an excuse to show David Corenswet in the buff. Not that anyone's complaining
  • Good Is Dumb: Jack, Rock, and Claire all get called and treated by others as unintelligent; Jack explicitly says that all his life people have passive-aggressively told him he's "lucky he's handsome", Rock is repeatedly abused by Henry for his 'Hayseed' intelligence, and Claire is lambasted by both parents for being unintelligent. They're also, though imperfect, some of the nicest characters in the show, and their naivete makes them come off as endearing. It's also worth nothing that Jack and Claire aren't actually all that dumb, and Rock wises up as time goes on.
  • Hard-Work Montage: A truly hilarious one of Ernie turning tricks to help raise money for the movie.
  • Hate Sink:
    • Henry Willson is an arrogant talent agent who abuses Rock Hudson and tries to alter the final cut of Meg behind Raymond’s back. Thankfully, he does shape up by the time the series ends. He even promotes a same sex romantic film to Avis, who green lights it.
    • The Ace Studios lawyer, who Avis tried firing, who warned against producing Meg based on the leading actress’s skin colour. Becomes even more despicable when he takes all prints of the movie and burns them, almost wasting all the effort the cast and crew put in if it hadn’t been for the editor who kept a print.
  • Head-Turning Beauty: Everyone at Ace Studios notices Camille's beauty, with a couple even outright calling her the prettiest actress there.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Several.
    • Ace, before his coma, was a horribly sexist, racist piece of shit who didn't care about his movies' quality so long as they performed well, and was cheating on his wife with an actress he was exploiting. After his coma, he takes stock, watches Meg and utterly falls in love with the film, and promotes his wife to co-executive, and tries to make peace with her before he dies.
    • Ernie, early on, is a pimp who takes advantage of Jack's desperate financial situation to pressure him into becoming a prostitute, and tries to pressure him into engaging in gay sex, which he's clearly not OK with. After Meg begins to enter production, he decides to support them leaving the life and making their dreams, and even donates to their production costs so they don't have to earn the money turning tricks. In the end, he gives up his prostitution ring to finally pursue acting.
    • Claire starts off as The Rival and trying to be The Vamp, with issues of It's All About Me. Getting to know Camille and her father's health scare prompt her into instead supporting Camille, even tanking her own audition. In the end, she gets a good supporting role part in Meg and finds love in Jack.
    • It takes a while, but after spending most of the series as the Token Evil Teammate and a general slimeball who abuses his clients, in the epilogue Henry gets sober and genuinely tries to atone. Understandably, Rock doesn't forgive him, but seems willing to accept he's a changed man.
  • Heel Realization: Claire is on her way to becoming a ruthless go-getter, but after her mother gives her a What the Hell, Hero? speech about her Skewed Priorities and she talks to Camille about her anxieties with the screen test, Claire realizes she should be more self-aware. She purposely tanks her audition half-way through to ensure they have to cast Camille, and instead accepts the part of her best friend, while also becoming genuine friends with her and Jack.
  • Historical Domain Character: While most of the main characters are fictional, there are also several real people in roles of various importance:
    • Rock Hudson, a leading man with a manly image who was actually a closeted gay man (and one of the most notable examples of such during that era). His sexuality only became public after his death in 1985, which also made him the first major celebrity to die of AIDS-related illness (and bring the disease to worldwide conversation).
    • Vivien Leigh, a British actress famous for playing Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind and Blanche du Bois of A Streetcar Named Desire. Also notable for being married to Laurence Olivier, and starring with him many times. She struggled with bipolar disorder in real life, leading to the collapse of her marriage.
    • Hattie McDaniel, the first African-American to win the Oscar (Best Supporting Actress for Gone with the Wind). She was heavily typecast as maids and variations of Mammy, although she later became the first African-American to have her own radio show (Beulah).
    • Anna May Wong - the first ever Chinese-American movie star. Despite her popularity and status as a fashion icon, she was passed over for leading roles in favor of white actresses in Yellowface; often getting stuck as the Dragon Lady or Beautiful Slave Girl. The film Dick regrets not casting her in is likely a reference to The Good Earth, a wholly Asian story featuring white Americans in yellowface, and Anna May was offered the only wholly unsympathetic role after being passed over from the lead.
    • Henry Wilson was a real Hollywood agent and power broker from the 1930s until the 60s. He specialised in young, good-looking men who were given manly stage names. He himself was a closeted gay man, and molded many of his gay clients into straight-appearing stars. He likewise kept blackmail material on file, and would use it to help his clients (sometimes at the cost of his others). The story he tells of William Haines - a Silent Era star who quit the industry rather than enter a sham marriage - is true as well.
  • Horrible Hollywood: Subverted. While the industry and the Academy are, as a whole, horrible, the main cast includes actors, producers and writers who are shown to be somewhat decent people.
  • In Spite of a Nail: While the 1948 Oscars in this world has Meg dominating with Wong, Raymond, Archie, and Camille all winning Oscars, Jack still loses Best Supporting Actor to Edmund Gwenn for Miracle on 34th Street. (He brushes it off with "come on, it's Santa Claus!")
  • Informed Ability: Jack, Camille, Raymond, and Archie are supposed to be incredible auteurs in their field worthy of Oscars, but from what we see, they don’t come across as particularly impressive.
  • It's All About Me: Claire at first, which her mother confesses is why she wanted to stop her daughter becoming an actress, as she believed the pursuit of fame would corrupt her into becoming this way. Thankfully, Claire takes stock and avoids falling into this mindset long-term.
  • Jade-Colored Glasses: Anna May is very cynical about Raymond's attempts to change Hollywood from the inside, being all-too-familiar with how awful the industry can be to people, especially women, of color.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Dick Samuels is blunt and abrasive but he's pretty decent guy who helps both Archie and Raymond achieve their dreams.
  • The Klan: They’re name dropped early in the series as a reason not to produce Meg. Once the film is green-lit, Camille and Avis are both sent a message by Klan members in the form of a burning cross on their yards. Camille refuses to live on the studio lot, as she feels that would be letting the racists win by showing they got to her, but she and Raymond are still scared — and for good reason.
  • Large Ham: Vivien Leigh, but would you expect anything else?
  • Lighter and Softer: Compared to some of Ryan Murphy’s other work, this show is surprisingly a lot more uplifting and heartwarming. That being said, it is still filled with horrific racism that was around during the time.
  • Love Father, Love Son: Gender-flipped. Jack's first client at the gas station is Avis, and he later falls in love with her daughter Claire. Fortunately for him, by the time they get serious, Claire is aware of his former job and the fact that her mother was a client, and is remarkably chill about it. So is Avis, though she did just about have a stroke when she initially found out.
  • The Mafia: When a tabloid reporter finds out about Jack's arrest for prostitution, and threatens to cause a scandal, Henry Willson solves the problem by reaching out to contacts in the mafia to have a few legbreakers to put the reporter in the hospital.
  • Out with a Bang: Ace dies after a night of reconciliation sex with Avis.
  • Parental Sexuality Squick: After Ace and Avis patch things up, they celebrate their attempt at starting again by a night of passionate love-making. In the morning, while Avis is singing at the breakfast table, a sleep-deprived, traumatized Claire arrives for breakfast, revealing she could hear them and couldn't sleep because they were doing it until 4 AM.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Ace decides to support progress and in-particular support his wife, with the two trying to renew their relationship. Which they start by having very passionate sex that lasts for hours. Unfortunately, they forgot that his heart attack was caused by having sex, and the experience unfortunately kills him. Unfortunately, because he dies, his lawyer tries to usurp control and destroy Meg before Avis can fully take control and fire him.
  • Rejected Apology: Rock is glad Henry's taking steps to improve himself, but outright says he'll probably never be able to forgive him. Henry acknowledges this as fair.
  • Romance on the Set: In-Universe, Jack and Claire become a couple during filming of Meg. So do Ellen and Ernie.
  • Safe, Sane, and Consensual: Played for Laughs in a scene where Ernie enacts a fairly hardcore bondage scenario with a client, screaming verbal abuse at him, tying him up, throwing him in a trunk, and later leaving him on the side of the road (after probably having had sex with him, though we don't see that part for sure). We know it's SSC because he keeps annoying the client by breaking character to ask if he's comfortable, if he needs him to loosen his bonds, etc.
    Ernie: So, I tied you pretty loose; you should be able to wiggle out. [gestures back to his car] I'm going to be right over there if you need me.
    Client: [muffled]
    Ernie: What?
    Client: [through his gag] Stay in character!
    Ernie: Oh, sorry. I mean, I'm gonna leave you here to rot, you pervert!
    Client: [grunt of approval]
    Ernie: [cheerful] This was fun!
  • Skewed Priorities: When her father has a heart attack, Claire's first thought is how it'll affect her screen test. Fortunately this makes her realize how selfish she's being and from here on out she becomes a committed Nice Girl.
  • Take That!: One Ace Pictures meeting concerning Meg brings up at the same time, Disney had released Song of the South. Avis calls the film "garbage", noting how uncomfortable she is with its casual racism.
  • Tears of Joy: Lots of them are shed during the Oscars scene, both by the main characters and the people at home listening to the ceremony.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Henry Willson, a sleazy, manipulative, exploitative bastard who weasels his way into working on Meg. While he is useful and sometimes has a point, he's also very much The Friend Nobody Likes.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story:
    • In-universe, Archie is persuaded to change his script "Peg" about the real life actress Peg Entwhistle to an allegorical story about a black actress named Meg which simply takes inspiration from her life.
    • The show itself, while an Alternate History, explores a fictitious version of Rock Hudson and Henry Willson. It remains loosely based as Rock's real name is given an Adaptational Name Change from Scherer to Fitzgerald (sort of, his stepfather's last name really was Fitzgerald and he admitted his last name was originally Scherer) and Henry's portrayed as a sexual predator; the latter though is likely a case of Deliberate Values Dissonance as it was noted that many of his talent 'co-operated' with him and his sexuality for parts.
    • Ernie seems to be a fictional version of Scotty Bowers, a gas station manager who in his 2012 memoir Full Service would claim that from the 1940s to the 1980s he also acted as a Hollywood pimp. Ernie's uniform in fact seems to be taken from a picture of Bowers wearing a similar uniform used for the poster of a 2017 documentary based on his book.
  • Wham Line: For those not too knowledgeable about Hollywood, it might well be a surprise when Roy Fitzgerald (who we've gotten to know as a struggling simple guy caught in some shady stuff) meets with Henry Wilson who suggests a name change: "Rock...Rock Hudson."

Alternative Title(s): Hollywood