Halston Is Just More Ryan Murphy Mediocrity

Dept. of ??‍♂️


Does that headline seem overly harsh? Again and again, Ryan Murphy seems to assemble the most stellar cast of players only to give us something so extraordinarily basic. His Netflix efforts so far have either been a failure of conception (see: Ratched), painfully obvious and preachy (see: The Politician), or both (see: Hollywood). And Halston, his latest effort about the life and times of the mononymous American icon, is department store mediocrity that’s wrapped in brand-name packaging.


I’ve had my heart broken over and over by every new Ryan Murphy joint on Netflix that I’ve come to believe that maybe the reality of his so-called genius can’t live up to the hype of it. Maybe Nip/Tuck and American Horror Story were the exceptions and not the rule. Or that his brand, like Halston before him, like the James Patterson literary industrial complex, has become irreversibly diluted at the altar of mass appeal and capitalism.

The irony of which seems lost on Murphy and his collaborators, especially given the subject of this particular series.

Who Is Halston?


Admittedly, I knew nothing about Halston going into this. (And neither had Ewan McGregor it seems!) Watching the series, however, was an incredibly frustrating experience. Every episode would hint at some tantalizing new detail about Halston, his character, his personality, and then just completely ignore it and move on. There are so many stories here and any one of them would have made for a fantastic exploration. Instead we get bits and pieces, here and there, all of which fall to give us any sort of understanding into what made him tick.

Characters are introduced in one episode and then disappear, only to show up later with no context or explanation. The death of his mother is played up to be this major life moment for Halston, but comes as a complete surprise as we don’t see her in anything other than flashbacks up to that point. In fact, the writing here is so bad that it feels like all this series does is answer every critical question with a shrug emoji. How does Halston navigate his homosexuality? ??‍♂️ Why does Halston have such a hard time expressing love? ??‍♂️ Why does he have such a fear of commitment? ??‍♂️ Why does he keep pushing away the people closest to him? ??‍♂️ What was his relationship with capitalism? ??‍♂️ What’s the point of making this if you’re not going to even attempt some sort of deeper analysis into why he was the way he was? ??‍♂️


Halston gave me a peek into this incredibly fascinating human being, but then made the mistake, like so many Ryan Murphy efforts, of forsaking depth for spectacle.

I am not one who demands accuracy in from my historical fictions. But I do expect a certain effort on the part of writers and filmmakers to get inside the mind of the subject in question. Attempt an explanation like Aaron Sorkin did in The Social Network. Provide an alternate take like David Fincher did with Mank. Something. Anything. ??‍♂️

Why Is Halston?


Ewan McGregor is brilliant in his ability to play extravagant, and obnoxious, and blasé, and he’s clearly trying very hard with the middling material he’s given to work with. But if there is one shining light in the series, it’s Krysta Rodriguez’s take on Liza Minnelli which, very much like the real deal, is that perfect balance of camp, charming, and lovable. Everything else just feels half baked.

Halston is an incredibly complex figure, but here he is reduced to just another broken boy with daddy issues. The series keeps flashing back to the same childhood memory – of a traumatized Halston trying to distract his mother from his abusive father by way of his fashionable creations – and using that as a catchall to explain both his talent and his inability to form meaningful relationships. It is the worst kind of reductive storytelling. One that picks on the absolute wrong thread, and strings us along for five episodes before realizing there is nowhere else for that story to go.


Watching this, you can’t help but wonder how a story, set mostly in and amongst the glitz, glamour, and excess of the 1970s, with plenty of drugs, disco, and gorgeous gay men be this unsexy? For all of its supposed chic, this is a production that comes off as clinical and completely indistinguishable from any number of Netflix dramas also set during the period. What a goddamned waste!

Imagine being able to see the world through Halston’s eyes. If only the production had tapped into the mind of the genius and allowed us to witness New York, and Studio 54, and the Battle of Versailles from his point of view. Wouldn’t that have been something?

What Is Halston?


Halston is, in a word, indulgent. It felt like the showrunners were told that they needed to deliver a five episode limited series and then crammed in as much as they could in order to fulfill their contractual obligations. In the hands of better writers, his life story could have been any number of things. It could have been a fantastic two hour movie about his relationship with Liza Minelli. It should have been an introspective look into the mind of a tortured genius and his struggle between art and commerce. It would have been the tragic tale of a man, adored by millions, but unable to find one person whom he could truly, and unconditionally, love. Instead, what we have is a series that tries to do everything, and gives us absolutely nothing.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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