'Hollywood' revels in the sleaze of star-making

Tom Long
Special to The Detroit News

A slick, tawdry mix of legendary gossip, contemporary social concerns, famous names from yesteryear and pulpy melodrama, “Hollywood” makes for enticing if somewhat vacant viewing. 

The place is Tinsel Town post-World War II, when young hopefuls drawn to the dream of movie stardom were plentiful. Among these is Jack (David Corenswet), a good-looking veteran with no acting experience but great expectations. He also has a pregnant wife (Maude Apatow) and a need for money, which drives him to work at a gas station where the attendants double as escorts, often to the wives of power brokers. 

Mira Sorvino in a scene from "Hollywood."

From there the story expands, eventually following the development of a film about a young actress who jumps to her death off the Hollywood sign. 

This is a Ryan Murphy (“Glee,” “American Horror Story,” “Feud”) production and it has the expected contemporary camp sheen topped off with no-restrictions Netflix nudity and language. The show is filled with “juicy” roles – Patti LuPone reigns as a studio head’s wife, Mira Sorvino pops up as an aging beauty, rock-jawed Jake Picking plays a dim but likable young Rock Hudson. And Jim Parsons absolutely slithers through his role as a twisted talent agent. 

There are some subtle moments – Holland Taylor and Joe Mantello shine as studio heads – but more often the show follows the big dramatic beats of the era while wrestling with more contemporary issues: institutional racism, power abuses and all sorts of gay stuff. Lots and lots of gay stuff.   

It’s an intentionally delicious and messy show, born to be binged, although a lot of the name-dropping – Tallulah Bankhead, Noel Coward -- may float right by some. No matter, its glittery blend of the tacky, corny and controversial, while lacking real weight, is an escapist balm.