×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: ‘Z: The Beginning of Everything’ on Amazon

With:
Christina Ricci, David Hoflin, Jamie Anne Allman, David Strathairn, Corey Cott, Jordan Dean, Natalie Knepp, Christina Bennett Lind, Holly Curran

The adjectives “dutiful” and “conventional” were not often applied to Zelda Fitzgerald. They could, however, be applied to “Z: The Beginning of Everything,” a handsome but superficial Amazon series about the life of the fascinating woman who married F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Back when they were the toast of not just the literary world but the 20th Century’s nascent celebrity culture, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald were both regarded as rebels — though it could be argued that Zelda was the more subversive of the two. Unconcerned with respectability and bourgeois rituals, she was a well-bred, witty woman who enjoyed shocking New York social circles just after her husband hit it big with his first novel, “This Side of Paradise.”

But the former Zelda Sayre began exhibiting her rule-breaking ways much earlier, in the stringent environment of Montgomery, Alabama, where a lady who went out without donning thick stockings was considered scandalous. Well before her headline-making behavior in 1920 New York, where the Fitzgeralds were established as the city’s most glittering Bright Young Things, Zelda’s intimates knew she had the soul of an iconoclastic artist: She was a sharp writer herself, and an astute observer of the radically changing world around her. She deserves a TV show about her life, but this one starts off slowly and only intermittently gains momentum and heft.

One of the best aspects of “Z” is that, like a Fitzgerald short story, individual installments aren’t overly long: The 10-episode show is a drama, but each episode clocks in at under 30 minutes. Occasionally, the show comes close to depicting the riotous, dislocating post-war whirl that the Fitzgeralds inhabited, where affairs, cocaine and Champagne were common. But given how intense Zelda’s emotions could be — and given how cataclysmic her relationship with her husband often was — it’s disappointing to find that, in the main, the series doesn’t offer much in the way of poetic precision or yearning atmosphere. The best word to describe “Z” is prosaic: It hits all the biographical notes that most former English majors will dimly recall, without adding many additional layers of insight.

The first episodes are centered around Zelda’s sleepy, rule-bound life in Montgomery, where her father, a stern judge, tries to keep her from sneaking out at night and doing other things that might harm her reputation. Once she discovers a kindred spirit in Scott, whose Army unit is based nearby, Zelda finally has an ally who despises the hypocrisies of middle-class life even more than she does. As it rather slowly trundles through the first half of its season, “Z” sketches out the ways in which both Fitzgeralds felt undermined and rejected, Scott by New York intellectuals and the rich boys at Princeton, and Zelda by Southerners who thought she was too wild and Northerners who dismissed her as a country bumpkin.

As aficionados of doomed relationships know, things didn’t exactly work out well for Scott and Zelda, who got married very young and plunged headlong into a world of drinking, fame, parties and debt. This 10-episode adaptation of a Zelda-focused novel of the same name examines the ways in which Scott mined Zelda’s utterances and diaries for the kind of luminous prose and aching insights that littered his fiction; clearly, she should have gotten more credit for the kind of deceptively difficult yet elegant style that made him famous.

As her ambitions curdle and his insecurities flare up after the first batch of money runs out, “Z” depicts the ways in which the witty barbs and poisoned insults they once reserved for the conventional world are turned against each other. It’s a dynamic that, in the hands of “Z’s” writers, soon becomes repetitive. One or both of them will feel slighted, or understandably offended by some snobbish action or quip, and then either Scott or Zelda — or occasionally both — will act out in predictable ways.

The show’s repetitive storytelling would be less of a problem if it had more depth, but its characterizations rarely go beyond the rudimentary, and its dialogue is often clunky (“You are not your father and I will never let you fail”). By the end of the debut season, Scott seems less a genius than a petulant, immature child — and to be clear, the author could be both, but “Z” rarely unites these disparate qualities in nuanced ways. Ultimately, the creative alchemy of the famous author eludes the series. 

Of course, the focus of the story is on Zelda, whom Christina Ricci depicts with admirable focus and subtlety. Ricci is particularly good at conveying the idea that Zelda is much smarter than most people give her credit for; in this telling of the tale, she purposely plays the role of the zany flapper in order to keep her tender and true self guarded from a harsh world. Given how little encouragement she received for being an unconventional woman, her anger and resentment are understandable, and Ricci offers quietly intelligent depictions of her character’s guarded emotions. 

Ultimately, however, this uneven series lacks the kind of melancholy fire that marked both writers’ finest works. “It captures youth and rebellion and takes a hatchet to everything else,” one Fitzgerald acolyte says to Scott about his debut novel. If only “Z” had done the same.

TV Review: 'Z: The Beginning of Everything' on Amazon

Drama: 10 episodes (10 reviewed); Amazon; Fri. Jan. 27. 30 mins.

Crew: Executive producers, Pamela Koffler, Dawn Prestwich, Nicole Yorkin, Christine Vachon, Christina Ricci.  

Cast: Christina Ricci, David Hoflin, Jamie Anne Allman, David Strathairn, Corey Cott, Jordan Dean, Natalie Knepp, Christina Bennett Lind, Holly Curran

More TV

  • GREY'S ANATOMY - "Let's All Go

    'Grey's Anatomy': 5 Biggest Shockers From the Season 16 Midseason Finale

    Spoilers: Do not read the following unless you have watched the season 16 mid-season finale of “Grey’s Anatomy,” titled “Let’s All Go to the Bar.” The always-dramatic “Grey’s Anatomy” made sure to ramp up the action for its Season 16 mid-season finale. Not only has Meredith Grey’s love life just gotten potentially more complicated, but [...]

  • Imelda Staunton'Downton Abbey' photocall, Rome Film

    'The Crown' Has Not Cast Imelda Staunton for Seasons 5 and 6, Netflix Says

    Netflix is shooting down reports that Imelda Staunton is joining “The Crown.” “We are currently filming season 4 of ‘The Crown’ but have not commissioned any further seasons as yet, therefore any news on casting remains pure speculation,” a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement. Staunton, known to many as the despicable Dolores Umbridge in [...]

  • Baby Yoda The Mandalorian

    Baby Yoda Merchandise to Debut Ahead of Holiday Shopping Season

    Purchase Baby Yoda toys, you will. Fans of the breakout character from the Disney Plus series “The Mandalorian” have been surprised that there was no merchandise pegged to the character available upon the launch of the show, given that the Christmas shopping season is rapidly approaching. But according to an individual with knowledge of the [...]

  • Sean "Diddy" Combs Revolt TV

    Sean Combs Slams 'Illusion of Economic Inclusion' at Comcast Amid Byron Allen Fight

    Sean Combs has come out swinging against Comcast in a lengthy statement prompted by the cable giant’s legal battle with Entertainment Studios chief Byron Allen. Combs accused Comcast of maintaining “the illusion of economic inclusion” in its handling of a carriage agreement with Combs’ Revolt TV channel. Combs was critical of Comcast for failing to [...]

  • Oprah Winfrey during a tribute to

    TV News Roundup: OWN Orders Celebrity Relationship Series '#LoveGoals'

    In today’s TV news roundup, OWN orders a new unscripted relationship series and Disney Channel orders new seasons of “The Owl House” and “Sydney to the Max.”  DATES ABC will live broadcast the “2020 NCAA Gymnastics Championship Final” on April 18. The semi finals will air the day before at 1 and 6 p.m. ET. [...]

  • Sissy book cover

    Showtime to Develop Series Based on Jacob Tobia Memoir 'Sissy' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Showtime is developing a half-hour dramedy based on Jacob Tobia’s memoir, Variety has learned exclusively. Tobia is a non-binary LGBTQ rights activist, actor, producer, and author. Their memoir, “Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story,” was published earlier this year by Putnam Books at Penguin Random House. The series, currently titled “Sissy,” would follow Tobi Gibran, a non-binary college [...]

  • Invisible Stories from HBO Asia

    Singapore Festival: HBO Asia Tells ‘Invisible Stories’

    HBO Asia has expanded its burgeoning production slate with six-episode half-hour series “Invisible Stories.” The first two episodes of the show, “Lian” and “Chuan,” play at the Singapore International Film Festival on Nov. 28. The series is by writer and director Ler Jiyuan, who previously directed part of HBO Asia Original series “Grisse.” “Like 80% [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content