It hasn’t quite hit its stride, but the premiere of “Feud” struck a strong opening blow.
“Feud” is a new anthology miniseries from “Glee” and “American Horror Story” creator — and former Indiana Daily Student arts editor — Ryan Murphy.
Every season will be about a different famous feud. This season is a treat for fans of Old Hollywood, because it is about the 1962 rivalry between actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.
The first episode of this season finds Davis and Crawford at low points in their careers. They’re feeling the pressure of ageism and Hollywood regards them as “has-beens.” Despite decades of bad blood, they decide to save their careers by starring in the movie adaptation of a horror novel, “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?”
“Feud” stars Susan Sarandon as Davis and Jessica Lange as Crawford. Sarandon is excellent at channeling Davis’ essence, and Lange is so good that she makes me want to see more of Crawford’s films.
The supporting cast is delightful. Stanley Tucci is energetically despicable as Jack Warner. Kathy Bates is hilarious as Joan Blondell.
This season of “Feud” has a lot for movie enthusiasts to love. The opening credits are an homage to the work of legendary graphic designer Saul Bass, who designed poster art for movies like “The Shining” and “Vertigo.” The dialogue has references to classics such as “All About Eve” and obscure films like “The Last Sunset.”
“Feud” is reminiscent of other recent projects about Hollywood history. It has a good sense of the comic anarchy that made the Coen brothers’ “Hail, Caesar!” so much fun. This show has a similar eye for strangeness as “Rules Don’t Apply,” Warren Beatty’s 2016 film starring Lily Collins and Alden Ehrenreich as a budding ingenue working for Howard Hughes and her driver.
Murphy’s directing in this episode is fantastic. He makes great use of well-composed wide shots to show off the grandeur of Hollywood. His vivid color palette bears a nice resemblance to the early seasons of “Mad Men.”
One of my least favorite things about “Feud” is its recreations of older films. There are several scenes where Sarandon and Lange recreate Crawford and Davis’ performances in earlier films. I thought it was distracting. I would have preferred the use of real archival footage of Davis and Crawford.
This series has a lot of potential. Its writers manage to say interesting things about ageism while being entertaining. But it has not yet fulfilled its potential.
The first of eight episodes seems curiously restrained, given its goal of introducing the main plot and convincing the audience to invest. Sometimes it feels like “Feud” is holding something back. Murphy and the writers are probably saving the best for last.
The first episode of “Feud” has a lot going for it. Its cast and recreation of Hollywood are fantastic. As a series, it has not quite clicked yet. But I’ll definitely be back next week, and you should too.