I was really looking forward to a series that was based on the wickedly funny movie made by George Huang in 1994. Told from the perspective of a low-level intern/assistant at a major Hollywood studio, it revealed the kind of abuse that newbies often suffer from. to get to the next level. Part of the fun was trying to figure out who the hell boss was based on and everyone had an idea. The derby lead was Scott Rudin, but it is significant that Huang worked for Barry Josephson. Joel Silver, a notoriously difficult boss, was also running. Regardless, this hilarious and sharp movie could have made a dark and funny television series.
This is not that series. “Swimming with Sharks”, created and written by actress Kathleen Robertson, gave us a variation on the story of “All About Eve”, where the naive unknown inserts herself into the life of a woman she idolizes and then proceeds to steal that life.
Lou, with a new face, arrives in Hollywood to take on the stage of his dreams at a major studio. The guidance is brutal and the two assistants in charge are harbingers of the hardships to come. Never mind, this is an internship in the office of Joyce, the highest executive in the business, CEO of Fountain Studios, and soon, when the sick owner, Redmond, dies, she will have complete control.
Lou, a stealthy soldier if there ever was one, has an unerring notion of what she needs to do to make herself indispensable and soon finds herself escorted to important parties by a vice president and Joyce’s confidant. Somehow, she is always where she needs to be to make the impossible happen. Her meteoric rise makes her many enemies, most of which she is able to do without, one way or another.
Lou has a hidden past, which Travis, her previous boss, is determined to uncover. What he’s going to learn, but we already know, is that Lou is an entirely made-up creature, made up of the sweat and tears of a girl who grew up in an orphanage and might be a little unhinged.
Lou’s rise and fall is detailed across six episodes that unfold relatively quickly, for which I was very grateful. The 2022 version of “Swimming with Sharks” presents itself as a dark thriller, and in some ways it succeeds. Suspenseful, maybe not, but it’s a mystery unraveled with lots of sex. Sex is pretty free, but how can my husband say, “And your point is?” What is totally absent is humour. There is not a modicum of humor present, and this is an emphasis on the lack of humor.
Stories about “the deal” are hard sell to people in Des Moines. Why should anyone care about whites receiving an annual salary that is greater than the GDP of some small countries? All the characters are ugly and their problems are pretty uninteresting. Sure, Lou’s character and reveal is well done, but in the end, who cares? I certainly don’t.
Streaming channel Roku is diving into the original content water, but Lionsgate Television, the series’ producer, hasn’t done them any favors. The production values are good and the sex scenes are exciting. So if you’re looking for prime time sex, beautiful people with ugly souls and the opportunity to feel superior then this is the show for you.
Unfortunately, and I use it ironically, the acting is excellent. Kiernan Shipka (Lou), better known as Sally Draper, one of Don’s daughters in “Mad Men”, has definitely grown up. She is beautiful and destined for better things. She really knows how to sell a femme fatale film noir vibe. The show is lucky to have her because she is, at the very least, watchable as the villain of the play.
Diane Kruger plays Joyce, the ambitious studio head who is blind to everyone around her. Kruger is a great actress when she’s given something to work with instead of reacting. Donald Sutherland, like Redmond, the studio owner, can say and do horrible things. I’m sure he enjoyed himself, but he definitely didn’t add any depth to the story. With Fountain Studios as Paramount’s replacement, it’s not a giant leap to go from Redmond to Sumner Redstone. Again, a bit too insider.
In supporting roles, Thomas Dekker as Travis, an assistant outranked by Lou and seeking revenge, excels. Erika Alexander as Meredith, is a highly valued author and filmmaker whose encounter with Lou is conducive in terms of both careers. She’s interesting to watch, though she’s mostly used to drive the story forward. In fact, everyone is used to just pushing the story, which wouldn’t be so bad if only the story they were pushing was more interesting and less predictable.
At the risk of repeating myself, there is not an ounce of humor in any of the six episodes. A more experienced writer would know that drama needs comedy to ferment the action.
My recommendation? Watch the original film for an amusing glimpse into the excesses that accompany Hollywood’s rise. It falls apart at the end, but until it does, it’s a fun ride. Better yet, watch “All About Eve,” one of the screen’s great enduring classics.
Broadcast April 15 on the Roku Channel.