Between 'Feud' and return of 'The Americans,' it's a great week for FX
I'm not a big fan of the TV catfight.
I never watched Dynasty; The Bachelor and Real Housewives make me queasy; and one of my favorite things about the CW's new Archie comics show, Riverdale, is that Betty and Veronica can be friends and rivals.
I'd probably have wanted that, too, for Golden Age stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, whose thorny relationship is the subject of Feud: Bette and Joan, the eight-episode first season of FX's newest anthology series, which premieres at 10 p.m. Sunday.
Feud cocreator Ryan Murphy might feel the same way.
Because as much soapy fun as Bette and Joan has with the pair's over-the-top efforts to one-up each other, it's also a smartly told tale of how sexism, ageism, and the old studio system helped turn two Oscar-winning actresses into bitter enemies.
Two other Oscar winners, Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange, portray Davis and Crawford, who, eager to revive a flagging career, team up for the first and only time for the 1962 thriller What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Directed by Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina), Baby Jane, in Feud's telling, proves to be as much of a horror film behind the scenes as it was on the screen. The two women, egged on by studio chief Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci) and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Judy Davis), fight for everything from Aldrich's attention to Oscar nominations.
Lange is a spectacular Crawford, especially when she's piercing the hardened shell to show the frightened woman underneath. Davis, not so colorfully written, gives Sarandon less to hang on to, but, like her character, she makes it work and doesn't give an inch.
It's not just Bette and Joan (and Hedda): Jackie Hoffman steals scenes as the maid/personal assistant Crawford called Mamacita; Catherine Zeta-Jones is a sly Olivia de Havilland (who famously had a feud of her own with her actress sister, Joan Fontaine); Kiernan Shipka (Mad Men) has a nice turn as Davis' daughter, B.D.; and Alison Wright (The Americans) is Aldrich's assistant Pauline. Kathy Bates and Sarah Paulson, members of Murphy's ever-growing repertory company, pop up as actresses Joan Blondell and Geraldine Page.
These women may not have always gotten along, but at least they're providing solid roles for other women.
As for the fighting, it won't be over anytime soon.
FX, already in business with Murphy on two other anthologies, American Horror Story and American Crime Story, announced Tuesday that Feud: Charles and Diana would follow in 2018.
Don't be surprised if the season opener of FX's The Americans leaves you a little disoriented.
The world looks different as the 1980s-set spy drama returns for its fifth season at 10 p.m. Tuesday, and it's not just that concerns that Russian might infiltrate U.S. institutions no longer seem like some artifact of the Cold War.
A new assignment has Soviet spies Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) spending time in a parallel universe where spycraft is already the family affair it could become if their daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) were to overcome her scruples about espionage -- and if her brother Henry (Keidrich Sellati) ever looked up from his video games long enough to notice he's being brought up in a den of spies.
But then why should he be any more savvy than their FBI agent neighbor, Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), who's happier than Elizabeth and Philip are that Paige is canoodling with his son Matthew (Daniel Flaherty)?
The battle this season has moved to the wheat fields and the dinner tables. With the KGB's Oleg Burov (Costa Ronin) back in the Soviet Union, investigating corruption linked to food shortages, there's an opportunity to contrast life there with the plenty of the Reagan-era United States, where Stan's inability to serve vegetables that aren't atop a pizza can afford to be a running joke.
I've said before that The Americans makes its fans complicit in the treachery of these spies we can't help but like. But what makes it one of the best shows on television -- besides scenes like the last 10 minutes of Tuesday's episode, which are not to be missed -- is its ability to show us ourselves as others see us.
Dizzying as that view might be, it's as timely as ever.