Before Feud: Bette and Joan airs on FX, two Hypable writers weigh in on the casting, costumes, and why you should check it out!
At long last, the wait for Ryan Murphy’s latest anthology series is over.
Based on the screenplay Best Actress by Jaffe Cohen and Michael Zam, Ryan Murphy and Tim Minear take on the notorious Hollywood battle between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. Feud: Bette and Joan is the first in a new anthology series from the duo for FX.
The onset drama of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane is only one piece of the complex puzzle Minear and Murphy try to arrange for viewers in Feud. Off camera Crawford and Davis battle ageism, sexism, bankruptcy, failed and failing marriages, and children who would rather be anywhere but with them.
The production quality of Feud rivals the best period pieces on any network in the past decade. But the story underneath is anything but prim and proper. Underneath the fur coats and pearls are two women doing their best to stay relevant and in charge of their careers.
Brittany: There is no question that Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange run away with their roles. Expect to see a Bette and Joan style fight for the Emmy later this year. However, the real stars of the show are the people who fill the shoes of the many, many supporting roles. You cannot take your eyes off of Kiernan Shipka as B.D. Hymen, daughter of Bette Davis. Same goes for Judy David as Hedda Hopper, gossip journalist to the stars, and Alison Wright as Pauline Jameson, assistant to Robert Aldrich.
Matthew: The choice to cast former Hollywood dames, Sarandon and Lange was one of the best moves Ryan Murphy made. Sarandon won an Oscar for Best Actress in Dead Man Walking in 1996. Jessica Lange won Best Actress for Blue Sky in 1995, the two only a year from each other. This parallels the relationship between Bette and Joan terrifically. Although Jessica and Susan don’t have a feud in real life, their hatred on screen towards each other is electric and raw. It is deeply rooted and passionately believable.
Most engaging elements
Brittany: The most captivating moments of Feud can be found when the camera lingers a few seconds after the action. Lange and Sarandon are masters of portraying complex characters. Whether they just sold out their rival to the papers, hung up the phone with their child, or wrapped a scene, their nonverbal reactions, when the heat of the scene settles, are the best moments of the series.
The ensemble cast, as mentioned above, give Lange and Sarandon a run for their money. It’s clear that these actors showed up with their A-game, pushing each other to deliver masterful performances. Feud manages to balance the perfect amount of screen time for each character and craft a messy, yet beautiful mosaic.
Matthew: Like Brittany stated, the acting in this series is astounding. The push each character makes almost brings the actors off the screen. For me, however, what made the show so engaging was how it actually looked. It is incredibly beautiful, as all of Murphy’s shows are. If you are a fan of his usual aesthetic you can sit back and marvel at the comprehensive sets, lavish costumes, and intricate attention to detail. There is a tone and color to the show that resembles previous work of Murphy’s but really throws you back into the 1960’s.
Brittany: I’d like to see what Ryan Murphy and Tim Minear could do with a smaller scale project.Feud is another in a long line of anthologies that peaks at episode 2 and then drags through what appears to be a montage of greatest hits that lack any true meaning to the story. Granted, the three episodes that follow are gorgeous. But you could watch them on mute and take away as much as you would from hearing the words.
Vision is not something that is lacking for Minear and Murphy. But perhaps a motivational poster reading “kill your darlings” needs to hang in the editing bay. Less, in this case, is more.
Matthew: For me, the main reason I kept watching was because I was seeking to understand what exactly it was on my screen. I spent five hours searching for deeper meaning in something that, in all honestly, doesn’t seem to have anything underneath it. It seems on the surface that Ryan Murphy is trying to tackle issues of feminism and ageism, but he falls just short of conveying a real message.
Two strong women, who are falling victim to the way society views their age team up to gain their credibility back and end up hating each other due to heavy influence of the men around them. There is an incredibly deep story there, but you never really see it. Maybe it is because I haven’t seen the last three episodes of the season, but if the show ended right where I am at I would be sorely disappointed.
I would feel cheated, like I haven’t gained anything from my viewership. That is what is most disheartening.
Are you going to keep watching?
Brittany: Definitely. I want to watch Sarandon, Lange, and Shipka earn their Emmys, Golden Globes, and SAG awards.
Matthew: Yes. It takes so much for me to give up on a TV show that I have started. I have this complex where I just have to stick around until the end. Feud may not be exactly a home run, but it isn’t a foul ball either.
Overall score (A-F)
Will you watch ‘Feud’ this season?
Watch Feud: Bette and Joan episode 1, “Pilot,” Sunday, March 5 at 10:00 p.m. ET on FX.