‘Last Ty­coon’ paints earnest por­trait of Hol­ly­wood

Se­ries de­picts 1930s glam­our and dark side

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - LIFE - At top, Pat Brady (Kelsey Gram­mer) and daugh­ter Celia (Lily Collins). In in­set, Mon­roe Stahr (Matt Bomer) dances with Kath­leen Moore (Do­minique McEl­lig­ott).

Maybe now’s the right time for F. Scott Fitzger­ald.

Based on the au­thor’s un­fin­ished story, Ama­zon’s The Last Ty­coon (stream­ing Fri­day, eeeE out of four) is a slightly melan­choly but ul­ti­mately sym­pa­thetic look at a Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer in the 1930s golden age of movies. Of course, back then the glitzy films played against a back­drop of the Great De­pres­sion and ris­ing fas­cism in Europe.

Ama­zon’s adap­ta­tion, cre­ated by Billy Ray (The Hunger Games), stars Matt Bomer as Mon­roe Stahr, a hot­shot pro­ducer and wid­ower who pours his heart into the films he makes for Pat Brady (Kelsey Gram­mer), the head of Brady Amer­i­can Pic­tures. Lily Collins and Rose­marie DeWitt round out the cen­tral cast as Brady’s am­bi­tious daugh­ter, Celia, and un­set­tled wife, Rose.

The se­ries is sur­pris­ingly up­front about the darker side of the movie busi­ness in the era, con­trast­ing gor­geous pe­riod cos­tumes and a grimy Hooverville next to the stu­dio.

It’s both a love let­ter to the age of Fred As­taire and Ginger Rogers and a (some­what gen­tle) cri­tique of the in­dus­try, touch­ing on Nazi cen­sor­ship, union sup­pres­sion, sex­ual ha­rass­ment and other shady deal­ings nec­es­sary to get the sparkly pic­tures made. Ty­coon, of course, lev­els this crit­i­cism while show­cas­ing the starlets, painted sets and mu­si­cal num­bers that de­fined film­mak­ing at the time, but it pays more than lip ser­vice to the prob­lems.

There’s a time­li­ness to the story, as the fic­tional film­mak­ers try to find their place and worth in a fraught po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic cli­mate, not un­like mod­ern artists.

Mon­roe, who is Jewish, sits in a meet­ing with a Nazi cen­sor who picks apart his films and can do noth­ing in re­sponse, or the stu­dio’s films won’t play in Ger­many. Noth­ing, that is, ex­cept make a thinly veiled at­tack at the Third Re­ich in a sub­se­quent pic­ture that they won’t be able to fight, with­out ad­mit­ting that the Nazis are just as evil as the fic­tional fas­cists he cre­ates.

Mon­roe and Pat make the stu­dio run, and the two ac­tors por­tray­ing them are the crux of Ty­coon. Once Bomer and Gram­mer get com­fort­able in their char­ac­ters, the se­ries takes off, and Gram­mer, es­pe­cially, shines, mak­ing a pre­dictable and of­ten vil­lain­ous char­ac­ter sur­pris­ingly sym­pa­thetic.

Bomer uses the same charm and charisma that made him fa­mous on White Col­lar but gives a more un­der­stated per­for­mance. Mon­roe is a dam­aged yet hope­ful man, which Bomer eas­ily con­veys through his mag­netic eyes.

The big­gest prob­lem with Ty­coon is its hour-long for­mat, which tends to drag about half­way through, and you can’t help but won­der what an ex­act­ing pro­ducer such as Mon­roe would have edited out. This is felt most se­verely in the pi­lot, which is slow and a bit clunky, tak­ing too long to get to the meat of the story and the im­por­tant char­ac­ters.

Ty­coon man­ages to cap­ture the wist­ful tone Fitzger­ald so of­ten em­ployed, while also be­ing a breezy binge-watch.

The au­thor may never have fin­ished his story, but the Ama­zon se­ries makes a strong case for con­tin­u­ing it.


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