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Review: Amazon’s ‘Last Tycoon’ Is Slick but Short on Passion


Matt Bomer and Dominique McElligott in “The Last Tycoon.”

Merie Wallace/Amazon Prime Video

“The Last Tycoon,” Amazon’s new series inspired by the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, is certainly meticulous — the period costumes, the hairdos, the historical references. Yet attention to detail doesn’t buy passion, either in romance or in recreating the tumult of the 1930s. The show, which becomes available to stream on Friday, looks great, as do the people in it, but caring about any of them doesn’t come easily.

Matt Bomer is the very definition of dapper as Monroe Stahr, the movie producer at the center of Fitzgerald’s tale, which was left unfinished at the author’s death in 1940. Don’t bother comparing this series, which has a first season of nine episodes and was built for the long haul, with the novel. The characters are there, and some of the incidents, but Fitzgerald is just a framework for what hopes to be a plumbing of the 1930s, the way that “Mad Men” excavated its era.


Lily Collins as Celia Brady in “The Last Tycoon.”

Adam Rose/Amazon Prime Video

Monroe collaborates, and sometimes spars, with Pat Brady, a studio chief played by Kelsey Grammer in the gruff, growly mode that has become his signature, which, for the viewer, makes the performance not very exciting; Mr. Grammer is fine, of course, but we’ve seen it all before.

The character you’re most likely to latch onto is Celia, Brady’s daughter, played by Lily Collins, who by Episode 3 has begun to make an impression amid a sea of thin female roles. Celia has a thing for Monroe, which is awkward for reasons that won’t be spoiled here. And, we come to find out, she also has an empathy her father lacks; she grows curious about the underclass of people who do the grunt work that goes into a big-budget movie, and about related matters, like unionization.

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It’s necessary to grab hold of Celia or some other secondary character because Monroe is too slick to embrace, and yet (unlike those “Mad Men”) not written with enough depth to be as intriguing as this series needs him to be. He still mourns his dead movie star wife, and we’re supposed to be interested in the push-and-pull between his need to fill the romantic void and his temptation merely to live for his work. Eh; it’s tough to care about the struggles of the glib and powerful.

The series pilot was floated more than a year ago, and it teased a few big-picture plotlines that seemed promising. One involved the influence of Germany on Hollywood’s moviemaking, as the Nazis became more demanding about what types of films they would allow to be shown in their country, a significant source of overseas revenue. Another involved a Hooverville that had sprung up too close to the Brady studio for comfort.

These and other historical themes are still around as the series progresses, but the attempts to merge them with the personal stories of the characters are not exactly seamless. Admirable care went into the costumes and settings; the script, not so much. There is quite a bit of awkward, didactic dialogue here. Nuance, apparently, had not yet been invented in the 1930s.

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