Gypsy: Season One Review

I was intrigued upon first hearing about Gypsy, not only to hear it stars one acclaimed Hollywood star Naomi Watts, the controversial Sam Taylor Johnston on directing duties and that the crux of the show was about a psychiatrist who develops an extreme fixation on her patients and slowly infiltrates herself into their lives. It all sounded very promising; like a 90s Verhoeven erotic suspense thriller. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Having spent a good four days watching the whole thing; I came out of it feeling quite perplexed; caught somewhere in the middle of like and dislike and feeling strongly about both sides.

Jean Holloway (Naomi Watts) is a psychotherapist, married to the handsome Michael Holloway (Billy Crudup) and their tomboyish young daughter Dolly (Maren Heary); residing in an affluent New York suburb. We get full access to their healthy marital relationship, their active sex life; their daughter’s fondness to look like a boy, her colleagues and most importantly her patients. To an outsider her life is ideal however for Jean its unsatisfactory. The large amounts of wine and bourbon consumed signal an unhappy and restless figure and slowly as developments reveal, Jean has a penchant for secrecy and carelessness causing her to resort to creating elaborate sticky situations, just to spice things up.

For Jean, these scenarios are mainly focused around her patients who week after week are on her couch divulging their inner worlds to her; oblivious to the fact they are slowly becoming pawns to some twisted mind game. Jean self-deludes by justifying her intrusion as if it’s a natural progression to her patient’s therapy. It is all very self-serving, of course. Her true intentions are perhaps a mixture of a God complex, boredom and an innate need for self-destruction. Other parallel plot strands include a typical boss/ secretary infatuation Michael’s assistant has on his; the incredibly attractive Alexis (Melanie Liburd) who is. Michael, non-admittedly, is reciprocally smitten but tries his hardest not to act upon his feelings.

The focus primarily lies on three of her patients: the over-bearing mother Claire Rogers (Brenda Vaccaro) and her fraught relationship with her daughter Rebecca (Brooke Bloom). Jean starts to stalk Rebecca, managing to innocently approach her and slowly develop a friendship with her in a bid to soften her behaviour towards her mum. The driving force for Jean is that this relationship mirrors her own relationship with her mother. Then we have the obsessed Sam Duffy (Karl Glusman) unable to let go of his non-committal love interest, the overtly sexual Sidney (Sophie Cookson). Jean fully intrigued by Sidney and her effect on Sam, tracks her down at gig. Sidney,of course, is the sultry lead singer of rock band Vagabond Hotel.  Jean slowly forms yet another relationship, but this time in a more sexually predator fashion. Finally, we have the co-dependent drug addicted college student Allison Adams (Lucy Boynton); who brings at the maternal instinct in Jean and feels protective of her; from her addiction and but also her controlling drug dealing boyfriend. Jean offers her a place to stay; an apartment she is secretly renting, under her husband’s nose.

As the episodes unfold we find out that this a revisited path for Jean; details of past situations resurface involving once again unsuspecting and vulnerable patients. As one would expect, things predictably spiral out of control, Michael discovers some truth of what’s going on and therefore Jean is forced to tie up the countless loose ends; one being Allison who goes missing; her drug dealer boyfriend is now stalking Jean and her family and the police come knocking at her door.

Sam Taylor Johnstone directed the first two episodes which are the season’s highlights; indicative of her directorial talents. The first two episodes possess a stylish slick edge; an understated eroticism and give the show a certain visual quality. But immediately as other directors take on the helms, from episode three onwards; it fails to maintain that quality; there is a complete change in tone and feel. In fact, the aesthetics and script transform to become this cheesy, half-arsed, Lifetime TV movie-esque thing. Contributing factors maybe the cheap hazy muted lighting, the predictable therapy lingo but mostly the outlandish self-inflicted scenarios Jean gets herself become too far-fetched and the way she manages to consistently and successfully wrangle herself out of them even more so.

Interestingly, Watt’s doesn’t portray Jean as this scheming pathological narcissist who wants to dominate people, at least not at face value. Instead we are given a more impulsive, curious and almost tragic individual who is unable to control herself. The only points where Watts performance lacks is in the weak and un-convincing love affair with Sidney (Cookson). There is absolutely no chemistry there. Their body language appears too simulated; you can sense Jean’s overthinking. It’s as if Jean is trying to fancy Sidney and in doing so their sexual encounters come across as awkward and clumsy. Sidney’s character is a terribly familiar, generic, over-sexualized femme fatale. Bizarrely Cookson’s IMDB tells me she is British and she is playing a Brit in Gypsy; upon first hearing her accent, one would think otherwise. Coldrup’s dark hair and clean cut handsomeness reminds of old Hollywood the likes of Cary Grant and Rock Hudson; but with more layers of complexity and reserve. Coldrup’s performance is noteworthy; he is able to give Michael a wide range of emotions; effortlessly interchanging from alpha male to caring husband to open minded father.

The repetitiveness of scenes, stagnancy of plot, slowness of pace and a cringe worthy lesbian affair contribute to a certain flatness in the mid-season episodes, which tests the viewer. This is not to say the show has no merit. The overall concept of the show holds great potential; Watts is captivating to watch and the show is original in the shedding light on to the nuanced unearthed truths of relationships: familial, marital, sexual and friendships. Conceivably however there are too many moving parts in the plot to produce one cohesive, seamless flow and it feels that too much of these parts rest on Jean’s shoulders. I wanted to love this so very much but sadly it wasn’t meant to be.

Review Summary

Gypsy proved promising but fails to impress; as we follow Naomi Watts' psychotherapist Jean down a path of secrecy and lies.

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