Tuned In: FX’s ‘Feud’ outshines new time travel shows
March 3, 2017 12:00 AM
From left, Leighton Meester, Adam Pally and Yasir Lester in the "Making History."
By Rob Owen / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Given the subject matter — actresses squabbling — and the storyteller — Ryan Murphy of “American Horror Story” fame, it’s easy to imagine FX’s “Feud: Bette and Joan” (10 p.m. Sunday) as a camp-fest as it tells the highly entertaining story of the disagreements between actresses Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) and Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) on the set of the 1962 hit movie “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”
“Feud: Bette and Joan” is the first in an expected anthology series about epic battles between big personalities (season two will feature Prince Charles and Princess Diana).
“Bette and Joan” does have its campy moments, but this smart, alternately funny and sad series is more than camp. The animated opening credits give away its true intention with the image of a cigar-chomping male puppet master pulling the strings on marionette versions of the actresses.
Through the first five episodes of “Feud” made available for review, the series doesn’t shirk in its depiction of men working overtime to promote the women’s rivalry as a way to goose public interest in the movie and line their own wallets.
Movie mogul Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci) urges “Baby Jane” director Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina) to “keep them at each other’s throats.”
Crawford, in particular, happily does her part, squealing to gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (scene-stealer Judy Davis, wearing the show’s best, most decadent costumes) about Davis’ body odor.
Manipulative as the men are, sometimes the women are their own worst enemies.
“Women will always do what they do when cornered: Eat their own and pick their teeth with their bones,” notes Joan Blondell (Kathy Bates) in a 1978 interview about Davis and Crawford.
In episode six when Aldrich’s assistant, Pauline (Alison Wright, “The Americans”), presents Crawford with a movie Pauline wants to direct Crawford in, Crawford, feeling her relevance slipping away, responds, “A woman director? It really is over.”
Easily the best new series of 2017 so far, “Feud” will prove especially appealing to fans of old Hollywood and smart, layered storytelling. The series explores not only the rivalry between Davis and Crawford, but also their own insecurities, family turmoil and sad histories. Crawford’s desperation for acclaim comes across as particularly pathetic.
In the lead roles, Ms. Sarandon and Ms. Lange shine. Because Davis is so iconic, Ms. Sarandon probably has the harder task, but after a few episodes any dissimilarity between her and Davis recedes as she captures Davis’ blunt spirit.
Time travel TV
The season’s oddest trend reaches its zenith Sunday with the debuts of ABC’s pedestrian “Time After Time” (9 p.m., WTAE) and Fox’s silly-stupid “Making History” (8:30 p.m., WPGH), time travel series that follow after NBC’s fall debut of “Timeless,” which already wrapped its first season.
Based on the novel and 1979 movie, this new “Time After Time” follows H.G. Wells (Freddie Stroma, “UnReal”) as he travels from 1893 to the present via the time machine he invented to chase Jack the Ripper (Josh Bowman, “Revenge”).
ABC debuts back-to- back episodes Sunday but earlier this week had only made the pilot available for review. It’s unclear if the series will rise above a constant cat-and-mouse game between Wells and Jack, something that seems like it could get old quick.
Fox’s quirky “Making History,” from executive producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller (“Last Man on Earth,” “The Lego Movie”), goes the comedy route as it follows a Massachusetts college facilities manager Dan (Adam Pally) as he time travels with a history professor (Yassir Lester) to meet the girl of his dreams, Deborah Revere (Leighton Meester, “Gossip Girl”), daughter of Paul Revere, in 1775.
The pilot, written by series creator Julius Sharpe (“Family Guy”), has its intermittently amusing moments, but episode two, where the trio foments the American Revolution using 2016-era NRA tactics, proves stronger. A third episode involving travel to Al Capone’s Chicago, circa 1919, is fairly lackluster.
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The second season of Arctic noir thriller “Fortitude” was left homeless when its network, Pivot, closed last year. Now Amazon has picked up the show’s second season.
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Syfy canceled drama “Incorporated” after one season.
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TV writer Rob Owen: email@example.com or 412-263- 2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook for breaking TV news.
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