Netflix’s Hollywood is set in the golden age of Hollywood, but reimagines events of that period in a much more hopeful and uplifting way. Created by Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan, this version of Hollywood in the 1940s finds one major movie studio bucking convention and allowing talented artists of all races and sexual persuasions to shine in Tinseltown’s spotlight.
Murphy describes the series as aspirational and optimistic while series star Jeremy Pope calls it a beautiful fantasy. What’s certain is that this isn’t the real Hollywood of the ’40s. It’s Murphy and Brennan’s fairy tale version of La La Land.
World War II’s over and Jack Castello (David Corenswet) has left the Armed Forces, ready to conquer Hollywood as season one episode one, “Hooray for Hollywood,” begins. Nothing in his Missouri upbringing prepared him for life in Tinseltown, but he’s a dreamer determined to become a genuine movie star.
Jack’s just like hundreds of others hoping to be noticed as he stands outside the gates of Ace Studios. Joining up with a friend, Jack and the mass of people surrounding him hope to be selected as extras for the day so they can earn a whopping $10 paycheck. Unlike his buddy, Jack doesn’t even know the Hollywood lingo – lensing, helming, BO, etc. – but he believes he’s meant to shine on the silver screen.
Jack’s passed over but he makes an impression with the casting director (Alison Wright) when he speaks up and suggests he’d be perfect for their war film, given that he’s a veteran. Unfortunately, that’s not the training needed as an actor. The casting director suggests a pretty face will only get him so far. He needs to take acting lessons to stand out from the crowd.
Normally an optimist but now suffering from rejection, Jack drowns his sorrows at the bar. A stranger pays for his drink and Jack’s immediately leery of his intentions.
Later, Jack’s dressed in his uniform as he and his lovely pregnant wife, Henrietta (Maude Apatow), meet with a bank loan officer. It turns out being a veteran who wants to be an actor doesn’t look promising on a loan application. Henrietta’s job at Schwab’s Pharmacy isn’t enough to qualify the young couple for a loan.
Once again Jack heads to the bar and once again he sees the stranger who bought him a drink. The man buys him another and introduces himself as Ernie (Dylan McDermott). Ernie jokes he couldn’t join the service because of his foot-long penis. Jack, after he recovers from choking, wonders why this stranger’s telling him about his penis. Ernie cuts to the chase, explaining he can tell Jack’s down on his luck and wants to offer him a job.
Ernie wants Jack to come work at his gas station where it’s not just gasoline that gets pumped. He only hires good-looking fellas and Jack fits the bill. He suggests Jack could make good money for easy work. Jack turns him down and Ernie says if he changes his mind, he should come find him at Golden Tip Gas. (The gas station/bordello is inspired by a real place.)
Jack’s having zero luck getting selected as an extra and after one unsuccessful day, he comes home to discover his wife reading a paper by candlelight. Their electricity has been shut off since Jack’s not bringing in any money and everything relies on her waitress salary.
Jack’s pretty much run out of options when he pays Ernie a visit at the Golden Tip Gas station. However, the job isn’t exactly what Jack expected. Ernie fills him in on the special services he expects his employees to offer. When a customer comes in and says “Dreamland,” it’s code for sex.
Initially, Jack refuses. But when Ernie mentions each encounter is $100 in his pocket, Jack reconsiders.
Jack’s first Dreamland encounter is with the uber-wealthy Avis Amberg (Patti LuPone). They check into a hotel and rather than get to it, Jack and Avis get to know each other. Jack admits he wants to be a movie star and Avis reveals she also wanted to be an actor. Turns out she didn’t make it once the talkies took over because of her religion. “A little Jewy, was the word they used,” says Avis.
Avis recalls that after being told a Jewish girl couldn’t be a star she was drinking at a bar and met a low-level executive on his way up at the studio. She got pregnant, they got married, and here she is today paying for sex with a handsome stranger.
Avis doesn’t want to get a divorce (she likes being rich) and feels this sort of arrangement is the best she can do right now. Her husband barely touches her anymore.
Jack confesses he was always put down by his family, called dumb, and told he was lucky to be good-looking. He wants to be a star because he sincerely believes movies matter. As a small-town boy, seeing actors on the big screen made him understand what being alive felt like. “What I do know is this – every time I leave the picture show I feel better than I did walking in,” says Jack.
Back at the station, Ernie passes out the cash to his employees – including Jack. Jack admits it wasn’t that bad and the lady was nice. Ernie attempts to get him to service Cole Porter in a trailer behind the station and Jack draws a line – he’s not gay and won’t pretend to be for cash.
Ernie expects Jack to do the job or else he’s out. Ernie takes back the $100 he just gave him and Jack stomps off, quitting his brand-new, possibly lucrative job.
Jack stops by Schwab’s to take his wife to her doctor’s appointment and interrupts her flirting with a fellow employee. They make it to the doctor’s office and are shocked to discover Henrietta’s pregnant with twins! Jack faints when the doctor delivers the news.
What’s an expected father of twins to do? Well, Jack decides his best option is to ask a friend to lend him a cop costume. He puts it on and heads over to a porno theater. Taking a seat in the audience, he singles out a black man and places him under arrest for soliciting.
They walk over to Schwab’s and Jack’s in full-on cop mode. He threatens to take his prisoner downtown to the lockup if he isn’t honest. Jack probes him for details on what he’s doing in Hollywood and how he started making money off sex.
Archie (Jeremy Pope) explains he’s actually a screenwriter, but he isn’t able to earn an income. He wrote a script about Peg Entwistle – the girl who jumped to her death off the Hollywood sign – and actually sold it to the studio. However, that $100 isn’t going to get him far and no studio will place a black man under contract. So, he turns tricks to make ends meet. He admits he likes doing it and since the money is good, why not?
Jack reveals the real reason he’s interested in Archie – he wants to recruit him to work at the gas station. He lays out how it works there and Archie, who was already suspicious of Jack, confirms Jack’s not a cop. He tries to walk away but Jack tags along. He wants Archie to meet Ernie. (Jack’s pretty pleased with himself for at least momentarily having Archie convinced he was a cop.)
Ernie takes an immediate liking to Archie and hires him on, promising he’s going to do a lot of business. Minutes after he’s hired, Archie gets his first Dreamland customer. The customer’s super shy and asks for Wonderland instead of Dreamland. He admits to being nervous and introduces himself as Roy Fitzgerald (Jake Picking). Introductions complete, they head off to Roy’s apartment.
Roy finally comes alive once Archie reveals he’s a writer. Archie explains a studio’s looking at one of his scripts and he’s hoping to be the first black screenwriter hired by a major studio to do something other than a “race” film. Archie’s script is about a white woman and has nothing to do with race.
When Archie teases maybe Roy can star in it, Roy calls that possibility a dream. Archie says when it comes true, they can look back at their meeting as a Hollywood dream come true.
Once more to Golden Tip Gas we go and Ernie, who has a horrible cough, gives everyone their pay. The station’s hopping as customers arrive, request Dreamland, and are serviced. Jack finishes up one gig and learns the lady he just had sex with is in casting. Connection made – Jack smiles like the cat who ate the canary.
The crowd of wannabe extras gathers outside Ace Studios hoping for a walk-on role. Jack joins them but this time he’s got a leg up on the competition. When the call’s put out for three players, his connection whispers in the casting director’s ear. She turns and signals for Jack to join them. He snagged a walk-on role in a Cecil B. DeMille picture, thanks to his work at Golden Tip Gas.
Henrietta returns home from a hard day at work to find Jack cooking dinner. Candles are set on the table as he invites her to have a seat. He wants her to quit her job since she’s pregnant and she’s shocked when she finds $500 in her napkin. He’s paid the bills and wants this to be used to help buy a house.
Henrietta gives her hubby a hug as he says, “Anything for you. Anything for my family.”
Back at the station, Jack asks Archie to explain what sexually ambidextrous means. His next customer arrives and once they make it to a hotel, the woman attempts to hand him cash. Jack explains Ernie is the one who pays him and when she offers it as a tip, he tells her he can take it afterward – if she’s satisfied. When she insists, he accepts it. The episode ends with Jack being placed under arrest for solicitation and lewd conduct.