After Viola Davis said, "Critics serve absolutely no purpose," we're ready to dive into weekly reviews of The Offer.
My main goal in up-front criticism is to focus on the positive. Since criticism is subjective (even if some critics might like to think it's objective), I don't feel it's my right to rain on anybody's parade.
No matter what you've read about The Offer to this point, I hope you're interested in playing around with the series weekly because this glance back at late '60s early '70s Hollywood is quite a trip.
The Offer Season 1 Episode 1 sets the stage for the series. It's our jumping-off point into the behind-the-scenes shenanigans associated with bringing The Godfather, one of the greatest movies of all time, to the big screen.
The film's producer, Al Ruddy, was an engineer at Rand Corporation, dreaming of making a splash in another way.
His analytical mind had already cracked the code of popular television, something he shares in casual conversation.
With friends on the fringes of the entertainment industry, Al's imagination is sparked. He can see himself doing something other than the dry work he does now.
And really, who hasn't had dreams of taking your turn in the spotlight, so sure you can find success just given what you've gleaned by being a fan?
But Al's moving in the right circles. Paramount Studios head Robert Evans is the man of the hour at every party, with his charm, his deep dark tan, and the women draped off of his arms.
Bob enters a room, and people take notice. His walk is sort of a dance that he does, arms open, welcoming people into his circle. Bob says and does all the right things to prove his value.
I had wondered where the beautiful cool cats had gone, and here they are.Bob
To whit, he's already optioned author Mario Puzo's unwritten book when his latest is stalling. Bob knows how to find the next big thing, and he sees something in Mario when Mario can't even see it in himself.
Mario is behind on his bills, taking loans from local sharks to keep his head above water.
His wife, Erika, sees the writing on the wall, pushing him to write about the mafia he knew from his old neighborhood and to put a familiar spin on it instead of what everyone else has done in their portrayals.
Erika: Fuck art, Mario. Start typin'.
Mario: You want me to write about the mafia?
Mario: How do I tell that story any differently? Everybody knows they steal, they control gambling, they run whores, unions.
Erika: OK. So maybe it's not just a book about the mafia!
Mario: What do you mean?
Erika: Well, the guys you grew up with, they didn't start out so different from you -- immigrants. They eat, they drink, they love, they cry. They worry about their kids' futures, just like us.
Mario: They kill.
Erika: OK, so maybe we don't kill, but maybe this book is about findin' the reason we would.
In this first hour, Al creates Hogan's Heroes, takes his admiration for Bob right to Bob's doorstep, and gets his first job as a film producer, landing Robert Redford in the lead, before Mario Puzo and The Godfather lands in his lap.
Mario goes from empty book signings to a hit of catastrophic proportions with The Godfather. He's getting the big-screen treatment with a huge investment in his talent, and he's working with an up-and-coming director, Francis Ford Coppola, giving him a hand with his screenplay.
It's the stuff of dreams, but two entities were trying to stick a fork in those dreams -- Barry Lapidis on behalf of Paramount owner, Gulf & Western, and the real mafia, thanks to a painfully egotistical Frank Sinatra.
Bob may have a giant grin plastered on his face at all times, but corporate greed was threatening to toss him out the door unless he had another hit like Rosemary's Baby.
Barry: Look, I'm not going to be around the bush. We need hits. We can't live off of Rosemary's Baby forever.
Bob: Barry, did you, did you read Love Story?
Barry: Yes. Why?
Bob: Did it move you?
Barry: What does that have to do with anything?
Bob: The audience has to be moved, Barry. That's how you make hit pictures. Times are changin' and you need to keep up. That's why I've got the job in the ivory tower, and you don't.
Barry: If you don't string together some hits, that ivory tower of yours is going to come crashing down.
Bob: Oh ye of such little faith. Bottoms up, Barry.
In contrast to Sinatra, who needed to enlist the actual mafia to fight his battles for him, Bob has confidence to spare. He knows he can deliver the goods, and he fully believes that Paramount will rebound, primarily because of Love Story, featuring his wife, Ali McGraw.
But he also knew that when a book hits the cultural zeitgeist like The Godfather did, he's sitting in a damn good spot to have two blockbusters on his hands.
It almost seems crazy to trust a green talent like Al Ruddy with the project, but Bob was impressed by Al's drive. Al reminded Bob of himself, like a dog with a bone, never giving up the fight.
There are many moving pieces in the premiere, but it moves along quickly. It allows you to get to know the various players, and even so early in the process, you get a taste of why The Godfather was such a success.
With such a talented group of people feeding off each other's passion, nothing was going to stand in the way of getting it made, and with Bob's advice to Al to always think in terms of what's best for the movie, Al moved mountains.
By The Offer Season 1 Episode 2, Sinatra's perceived slight has infected Italians even outside the mafia.
A New York politico decides to make things tough in his attempt to appease the crime bosses by inserting himself into the situation with the production, particularly by refusing location permits to film in New York, and you can't film The Godfather anywhere else.
All of this gave the mafia an in to better manipulate the masses and production on The Godfather. Joe Columbo even seized the opportunity to make a name for himself.
Sinatra's influence affected casting because no good Italian in his right mind would further slight Sinatra, no matter how good it would be for their career otherwise. But using the mafia to do his dirty work wasn't a wide move.
Sinatra didn't bank on how little respect he actually had in the community, and Sinatra's attempt to call the shots for Colombo annoyed the crime boss good. He was further aggravated when other mafia heavies thought he'd become too public of a figure with his Italian Civil Rights League.
A newly minted head of family, he is surprisingly pleasant and seems keen on avoiding violence, which is outside of mafia tradition. You could see how he'd ultimately be a help to Al long before it became a reality.
God knows Al could use the help.
As if politicians and the mafia weren't enough to muddle things, Barry was trying to stick a poker in The Godfather, too, with accountant Jack Ballard at his side.
Amongst their terrible ideas were changing the setting and altering the film's timeline, which was enough to send Francis right off the deep end.
Al: So now Barry Lapidis is dictating what The Godfather is going to be.
Bob: Ruddy, Ruddy, Ruddy. Stop being so emotional. Of course, I support Francis's vision. But you gotta read the room, kid. Nothing good would have come from me confronting Barry right then. Fuckin' Barry. Barry is mad at the world because it sees him for what he truly is, a no-talent prick. But, he feels like he got a win, like the big guy on campus. Let him think that for now. It keeps him out of our way.
Al: I mean, I don't know how you're being so relaxed about this. Francis, he's about to quit.
Bob: Said every director who eventually finished their picture. Trust me, Francis isn't going anywhere.
Sending Francis off the deep end really affected Al, who felt he was losing control. His behavior was also affected, and he started losing trust in Bob. But as the walls began closing in on Al, Bob stuck his foot in between them, offering a reprieve by giving Al one hell of a pep talk.
Al: So we don't have to set this in present day.
Bob: Ruddy, how'd you get into my office?
Al: What do you mean?
Bob: You got in because you did something that's not done. You saw something that you wanted, and you went for it. Whoosh. You and I are not like these corporate fucks. We don't play by the book, we write the fuckin' book. Now, you want to be a great producer, you do whatever it takes to get the movie made the way you want to do it. Now, you want New York. Go there. Make some deals. Prove that you can do it for the money. Beg, borrow, I don't give a fuck. Steal. You do whatever it takes. Now, you don't have a long track record, but ya got brains, and ya got balls. Try using both, preferably at the same time.
It felt like words we should all live by. Slowly but surely, it seemed like things were going to ease off a bit.
Several forces were working overtime to shut it down, and when Bob found a rat wrapped in The Godfather in his bed, he was feeling inclined to get in on that action.
But rolling into The Offer Season 1 Episode 3, with Bob's job on the line, he doubled down on The Godfather, which had to be the last thing anyone expected.
Colombo's thoughts on The Godfather remind me a lot of social media today. Once the dust is kicked up, everyone wants to pile on to be one of the cool kids. Word on the street was that The Godfather would paint all Italians in a negative light, and without reading a word of it, that became gospel.
Al's kidnapping was divine intervention. If Colombo hadn't done it, the negativity would have grown. Instead, Al won over Colombo to at least take a look at the script.
Of course, the script wasn't near finished, which created a whole host of other issues with Mario and Francis first, and Bob, who needed to get his hands on the script to save his ass, second.
But before we get into all of that, it seems like a good time to discuss the worst part of The Offer, in my humble opinion -- Al's relationship with Francoise.
It's so dry and lacking passion. They seem like business partners. Hell, Al and Bettye have more sizzle than Al and Francoise.
But what really drove me bonkers was her harping on Al for not calling her during his kidnapping. Her constant need for affirmation and accommodation was so irksome, resulting in the character weighing down the story overall.
Sadly, even Bettye, with her plucky attitude and ability to get things done, didn't make much of an impact. As good as Juno Temple is in everything, she shouldn't have gotten short-changed here.
The Offer's biggest issue with story and characters comes from trying to fit women into a story with so much testosterone. None of them come out of it all that great, and since the showrunner is a woman, Nikki Toscano, that's kind of surprising.
What makes this particular point of the three episodes uber annoying is how Francoise suddenly believes herself a producer. Granted, Al fell into the business, but he had keen industry insights.
That storyline just pales next to any of the others. Similarly, it hurts my soul that Bettye gets involved with Charlie no matter how large a grain of salt she takes with him.
The Offer doesn't show any genuine affection between the two, so it comes off as Bettye using him for information and playing the ingenue to his powerful type, even if he doesn't seem like that bad of a guy.
Bettye: Are you going to shitcan Evans?
Charlie: Beautiful woman like you shouldn't waste time reading.
Bettye: Beautiful women have to waste their time doing a lot of things, Charlie, like drinking salads with CEOs. So? Is he out?
Charlie: Tell me what you think about The Godfather.
Bettye: Now you want a woman's opinion. It's fantastic. The script is gold. It's gonna make you a ton of money.
Charlie: Give it to me.
Charlie: I am your boss. I could make you give it to me.
Bettye: You can't make me do anything, Charlie.
Around Charlie, Bettye becomes the kind of person who says she's drinking her salad, which is nothing like the person she is when she's working with Al, although she does, at times, treat him a little bit like a child.
Bob loves women. When they're not draped all over him, he chooses intelligent women as trusted confidantes, such as Andrea, for casting.
But Francoise suddenly inserting her opinion (no doubt heard on the street since it wasn't the first time we heard it in the show) that Sinatra play the don was too much for him (and me).
And as bright as Al seems in all other areas, how he is with Francoise makes no sense.
He's a confident guy. Why would he cave to Francoise in that way? If there were a story about him and his love life that would have shown how he could be so different in life than in love, I would have loved to have seen it.
With so much of the third episode focusing on Francoise, it was not time well spent and put a little bit of a damper on the three-episode drop.
Without question, the most entertaining parts of the three episodes come from Al's business with Colombo, which is only just beginning, everything Bob Evans, and the writing partnership between Mario and Francis that blossoms into a friendship.
What did you think of the first three episodes of The Offer?
I can't wait to hear what you think as we start this seven-week journey together.
Please drop a comment below with your thoughts!
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.