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Review: In Netflix's 'Ratched,' crazies run the asylum, again

Stylized but uneven 'Ratched' revives a less than healthy nurse

Tom Long
Special to The Detroit News

“Ratched” isn’t wretched, but it is something of a mess.

A beautiful mess, of course. This is the latest from producer Ryan Murphy (“American Horror Story,” “Feud,” “Pose,” “Glee,” the list goes on forever) and the production design, the candy colors and fabulous outfits do not disappoint. The story and characters, on the other hand, skid off in all directions.

Sarah Paulson and Cynthia Nixon in "Ratched."

Here we divine the origin of Nurse Ratched, the cruel villain in Ken Kesey’s mental hospital drama “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Played by the ever-confident Sarah Paulson, we find out how our nurse got into the torturing mental patients business and — surprise — it’s your standard crazies-in-charge-of-the-asylum deal.

The story takes place in the late ‘40s so Murphy has decided to mimic the look, rhythms and music of that era (think directors Hitchcock and Douglas Sirk) while adding in bouts of “American Horror Story”-like gore (“Ratched” is an obvious cousin of “AHS”). Essentially Nurse Ratched inserts herself in a hospital on the California coast with a hidden motive and strange things start happening.

But not for a while. The first two episodes are mostly style without content, a condition that never fully fades away. But a story does eventually get going; actually it gets going all over the place and many jumps are inconsistent. At first Nurse Ratched is disgusted by lesbians; then suddenly, with little plausible transition, she IS a lesbian (the pairing of Paulson and Cynthia Nixon, both actual lesbians, is a typical Murphy semi-inside joke).

Worse, too many of the characters here are cardboard cutouts. Sharon Stone is a vengeful heiress and that’s all she is; Corey Stoll is an incompetent hitman and that sums him up. This isn’t acting, it’s posing.

Happily Judy Davis and Sophie Okonedo — both Oscar nominees — do eventually develop juicy parts. And “Ratched” becomes watchable entertainment. But that style-over-content thing makes you wonder if Ryan Murphy shows would be better off with less Ryan Murphy.

Tom Long is a longtime contributor to The Detroit News. 

“Ratched”

GRADE: C+

On Netflix