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Is Ryan Murphy's Feud Good Enough To Make Sure Ya Are In That Chair Every Week?

Bette Davis and Joan Crawford's legendary rivalry gets a shot at immortality for the Peak TV generation.

What Is This Thing?

FX embarks on its third active anthology series from producer Ryan Murphy, with the rough theme being "two real-life people who hated each other." First up: the legendary Old Hollywood enmity between leading ladies Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Like any gay man worth his salt, Murphy has centered his eight-episode series around the only time the two ever shared the screen: 1962's camp classic, Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, and the legendary rancor for one another that both Davis and Crawford displayed while working on it.

When Is It On?

FX is putting it on Sunday nights at 10, a first for a Murphy-produced series, creating an insane bottleneck of women-fronted TV on Sundays, including HBO's Big Little Lies, CBS All Access's The Good Fight, and ABC's upcoming return of American Crime (and, not for nothing, The Real Housewives Of Atlanta).

Why Was It Made Now?

After American Crime Story ended up doing such a great job extending Murphy's brand at FX, the door got flung wide open. The man now has no fewer than six seasons of TV in some stage of development: Katrina- and Versace-themed seasons of American Crime Story, whatever the next American Horror Story is, a proposed Crime Story about the Lewinsky scandal, and a threatened season about the 2016 election that really ought to be scrapped and replaced with a Feud about Donald Trump vs. Rosie O'Donnell, but I'm not about to tell a millionaire how to live.

What's Its Pedigree?

Ryan Murphy's uber-producer bona fides are listed above, though it should also be noted that no previous series of his better establishes his credentials for doing a Bette Davis/Joan Crawford series than Popular, which actually did an entire Baby Jane parody episode, and fairly spectacularly at that.

As far as the cast goes, you could scarcely ask for better. Jessica Lange returns to the Murphy fold to play Joan Crawford, a woman who fits seamlessly into Lange's Horror Story oeuvre of fierce bitches who are frequently reined in by the patriarchy. Democratic Party bogey-woman Susan Sarandon plays Bette Davis, whom Crawford despises for, among other things, looking down her nose at her contemporaries. So.

The supporting cast is stacked with names: Catherine Zeta-Jones and Kathy Bates play actresses Olivia de Havilland and Joan Blondell, respectively, making it four Oscar-winning actresses in the cast, which is appropriate considering how often that little gold statue gets referenced. Alfred Molina plays Baby Jane director Robert Aldrich, Stanley Tucci is Jack Warner, and Judy Davis is gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, who teams up with Joan to try to take Bette down.

Finally, NYC theater partisans will thrill to see Jackie Hoffman playing Crawford's faithful housekeeper, Mamasita.

...And?

If you want to roll around in high-class cattiness performed by some of the best actors of their generation, Feud will be exactly what you're looking for. The series centers on Crawford a bit more than Davis, if only because it was Crawford's desperation to stay one step ahead of obsolescence that led her to pursue Baby Jane as a project. Crawford and Davis team up because they know that they're each other's only chance to strong-arm a Hollywood system that doesn't want them anymore. Warner in particular so loathes Bette Davis (long story; she ended the star system in Hollywood) that he screams the c-word about her; tune in on Sunday to see if FX lets that one air unobstructed.

Lange's version of Crawford isn't quite the Mommie Dearest gorgon you might be expecting. She vacillates between pitiless and monstrously needy. She sneers at Marilyn Monroe winning a Golden Globe ("I've got great tits too, but I don't throw 'em in everyone's face"), yet seems to desperately crave Bette's respect. Davis, for her part, can't stand Crawford's neediness, and willingness to play the Hollywood game and give gossip to Hopper and be a "brand ambassador" for PepsiCola. In the second episode, Warner actively maneuvers to pit the two stars against each other, partially to goose the buzz on the film and partially to diminish the power of their solidarity.

As is often his wont, Murphy moves things right along very quickly. They're all on set for Baby Jane by the end of Episode 1, Bette devising that famous cracked-baby-doll visage for her character seemingly as a way to needle the overly made-up Crawford. By Episode 3, the film has wrapped. And in Episode 5 (the last given to critics by FX), we get that fateful Academy Awards campaign, where Davis was nominated instead of Crawford, and Crawford schemed and cajoled all around Hollywood until she found a way to accept that Best Actress statue herself. That episode is a thrill for any viewer, but if you care at all about the Oscars, it plays like a white-knuckle thriller.

...But?

Sarandon somewhat underplays Bette Davis, a choice that doesn't always pay off. The whole point of Davis's character is that she's this massively magnetic natural talent with chutzpah and gravitas and brassiness and all the rest. You don't always see in Sarandon's version of her what would have intimidated Crawford so much.

And as is often the case with Murphy's shows, the pacing isn't not a reason for concern. There are three whole episodes left after Crawford snakes Bette's Oscar out from under her (uh...spoiler?), and I'm wondering how they won't feel like an extended epilogue.

...So?

If there's a more self-selecting television show in 2017, I will eat the dead rat you served me under a stainless-steel cloche. If the idea of Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon playing Joan Crawford and Bette Davis in a Ryan Murphy-produced anthology series about the making of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? doesn't send multiple orgasms shooting down your spine and out your tailbone, you have your answer. If it does? You're going to enjoy this.

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