Z The Beginning of Everything
Cast - Christina Ricci, David Strathairn, David Hoflin
Rating - 3/5
Aside of course from the great shows, another encouraging aspect to this surge in excellent television we’re seeing is that it has given talented actors, who aren’t necessarily as visible as they were in their heyday, exciting new opportunities and hordes of new audiences who’re probably discovering them for the first time.
Winona Ryder made a return in one of the most talked-about shows of 2016 (although I still maintain that she was hardly the best thing about Stranger Things), Josh Hartnett has been quietly killing it over at Penny Dreadful and Matt Dillon is leading the show at Wayward Pines.
In Amazon’s Z: The Beginning of Everything, it’s Christina Ricci’s turn to remind us all of what a ‘90s icon she was. Go on, try and remember that one great Christina Ricci movie, and chances are you’ll be transported. The Addams Family, Casper, Speed Racer, Sleepy Hollow and the best ones: The Ice Storm and Monster; it makes you wonder, how in heaven’s name did she manage to disappear at all?
But, gladly, she’s back, and unlike Winona Ryder, is the heart and soul of her comeback. Z is based on the life of Zelda Sayre, whom you’d probably know better as Zelda Fitzgerald, perhaps the original tabloid queen.
The show catches Zelda before she met the man who would write her all those wonderful letters, before she became arguably the most iconic muse of the 20th Century, a symbol of the Jazz Age; when she was a rebel, the schizophrenia that would consume her life still years away.
The show wisely chooses to keep both Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald at an arm’s length from each other, at least for the first few episodes. They’ll have enough adventures in the years to come, which will likely be explored in future seasons, were it to get any. Instead, we’re introduced to a free-spirited Zelda, at constant odds with her disciplinarian father (played by always brilliant David Strathairn), and his rough Southern values.
A lot has been written about the Fitzgeralds, (mostly by Scott and Zelda themselves), but Stuart O’Nan’s recent West of Sunset stands out. It catches up with the couple in more unfortunate times, their once-volatile relationship limping to the end of its line. Oddly, the book could be a great companion to the show; a melancholic, aged foil to its youthful exuberance.
Together, they capture the entire vacillating journey of the Fitzgeralds, and consequently, of every romantic relationship worth writing about.
But try as it might, even with the luxury of 10 episodes, it can’t quite capture the fire that Woody Allen managed to trap in just a few scenes in Midnight in Paris, where the couple was played by Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill.
At best, it is a diverting show, pleasantly costumed, with an excellent central performance, and designed with a great eye for period detail, but nothing to write letters about.