'Ratched' flies closer to 'American Horror Story' than 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'
Posted September 18, 2020 10:02 a.m. EDT
CNN — In the latest bastardization of intellectual property, producer Ryan Murphy's "Ratched" is basically "American Horror Story: Cuckoo's Nest," a sort-of prequel starring Sarah Paulson as the quietly unbending nurse from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," casting her into a florid sea of stylish noir excess. Big, showy roles from a star-studded cast abound, but it's mostly in the service of glossy garbage.
Created by newcomer Evan Romansky, the eight-episode Netflix drama (and no, this isn't designed as a check-in, check-out limited series) bears all the Murphy hallmarks, kicking off with a grisly multiple homicide involving priests, perpetrated by another of the producer's repertory players, Finn Wittrock. The character lands in a mental asylum situated in a picturesque Northern California seaside town in 1947, where the fashions are stylish and Hitchcock-ian music accompanies every long drive along the coast.
Enter Paulson's Mildred Ratched, whose smoothly delivered calm belies more serious intentions. Endeavoring to find a position as a nurse at the facility for reasons that fairly quickly become clear, she immediately arouses the suspicions of the head nurse (Judy Davis) and the nosy landlord (Amanda Plummer) at the motel where Mildred takes a room.
That's already three flamboyant roles, but wait, there's more, including Cynthia Nixon as an aide to the governor (Vincent D'Onofrio), who finds a political motivation for becoming interested in mental-health programs; Sophie Okonedo as a patient; and Sharon Stone as a wealthy woman harboring her own secrets and a desire for vengeance against the asylum's administrator (Jon Jon Briones).
That's a lot of female firepower, and the cast dives into all this chewy pulpiness with reckless abandon.
Alas, it's a little too reckless, and the connection to "Cuckoo's Nest" -- an Oscar-winning 1975 movie starring Jack Nicholson, based on Ken Kesey's novel -- feel conspicuously tenuous. While the series zeroes in on social mores of the time, including homophobia and sexism, it plays mostly like an excuse for more gruesome "Horror Story"-style violence, culled from the lurid zones of Murphy's prolific filmography rather than his higher-tone fare (see "Feud: Bette and Joan" or "American Crime Story"), or for that matter the source.
It's a shame, since Paulson was the perfect choice to play the clenched, infuriatingly calm character that earned Louise Fletcher an Academy Award, and like Murphy's other recent Netflix period piece, "Hollywood," the overall casting and general look are sumptuous.
Those lavish trappings wind up sacrificed on the altar of gratuitous nastiness, and the title finally feels like little more than a come-on to attract those curious about how the series and movie will intersect.
The result, simply put, is that "Ratched" becomes wretched and for the wrong reasons, and even filed into the cabinet of "guilty pleasures," doesn't deserve an extended stay.
"Ratched" premieres Sept. 18 on Netflix.