Ryan Murphy has a specific style of television that, for me, works really well in some contexts (the high-school musical melodrama of Glee) and less effectively in others (the high-stakes real-life melodrama of The People vs O.J. Simpson). Bette & Joan, an 8-part account of the infamous rivalry between Hollywood broads Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, is a happy medium between showbiz silliness and biographical weight.
In pitching the studio lots of the 1950s as a battleground for bitchiness beyond what has ever been seen in a Murphy show, this first season of Feud establishes itself as a wildly entertaining dark comedy starring two of America’s biggest acting presences.
Jessica Lange is Joan, Susan Sarandon is Bette, each visibly having the time of their lives as these two women throw endlessly-amusing quantities of shade each other’s way. Meanwhile, we encounter such underrated talents as Alfred Molina as Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? director Robert Aldrich and the wonderful Stanley Tucci in reliably chameleonic, and brilliantly unpleasant, form as sleazy studio boss Jack Warner.
With episode 1 covering Crawford’s recruitment of Davis for Baby Jane (for to-be-determined motives), contrast negotiations (any show featuring debate over actor billing has me on side immediately) and the first days of shooting the film, there’s much delightful ground to be covered over the next 7 episodes.
Feud may look on the surface like a show for the elderly women and gay men who account for Baby Jane‘s fanbase nowadays, but as a straight man who simply adores the scandal of golden-era tinseltown, Bette & Joan has already become one of my favourite new shows of 2017.