The Last Tycoon Amazon Series Premiere Matt Bomer

The Last Tycoon Review: Cut! Rewrite! Amazon's Dreary Showbiz Drama Belongs on the Cutting Room Floor

There are quite a few puzzling aspects to The Last Tycoon, but the biggest head-scratcher of all is: If your studio executive looks like Matt Bomer, why not just put him in all your movies?

Bomer’s matinee-idol looks are certainly put to good use in Amazon’s retro Hollywood drama (debuting Friday, July 28) — he looks damn good in a tailored suit and fedora — but like a lot of The Last Tycoon, the substance falls far short of the image. Plagued by corny dialogue and clumsy plotting, this ambitious series aims for the stars but plays more like a first-weekend flop.

Based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished final novel, Tycoon centers on Monroe Stahr (Bomer), who produces movies — sorry, “pictures” — at a thriving fictional studio in 1930s Hollywood. Monroe is a commanding presence on the studio lot (with a face like that, how couldn’t he be?), but his confident smile hides a tragic past: His wife Minna, a luminous silent-film star, was killed in a fire, leaving Monroe a grieving widower determined to honor his wife’s legacy.

The Last Tycoon Season 1 Amazon Matt BomerThat brings us to Tycoon‘s first big problem: Monroe is too perfect. He’s a workaholic, micromanaging every aspect of his film productions, but no one seems to resent him for that. He’s set up to be the grandstanding hero who makes big speeches and has no discernable flaws — unless “He loves his dead wife too much!” is a flaw. Oh, and to lay it on even thicker, Monroe also has a congenital heart defect that could kill him at any time. (That’s why he’s so damn driven to make the perfect picture, see!)

As a behind-the-curtain chronicle of Hollywood’s lavish past, Tycoon pales in comparison to FX’s recent FEUD: Bette and Joan — which had its share of storytelling flaws, to be sure, but at least allowed its heroines to be human. And Tycoon is further hampered by stagey, hard-boiled dialogue that feels like it’s lifted from an actual 1930s movie that hasn’t aged particularly well. (Sample: “When’s the last time you were in a church?” “I do my praying at the box office, you know that!”)

If all that weren’t enough, the pilot script from film writer Billy Ray (Captain Phillips) shoves in a pair of ill-fitting subplots to add historical context. With Hitler rising to power in Europe, German diplomats are dispatched to the studio to demand that all unflattering depictions of Nazis be removed from their films — and of course, Monroe is the only executive in town who’ll stand up to them. Plus, there’s some maudlin Depression-era business about homeless families living in tents right outside the studio gates. It all feels like the perfect-hindsight wisdom of today being applied to an earlier era, rather than a grounded portrayal of that era as it was really lived.

The Last Tycoon Amazon Kelsey Grammer Lily CollinsThe supporting cast is admittedly solid: Kelsey Grammer as Monroe’s domineering studio head Pat Brady, who plays bad cop to Monroe’s good cop; Lily Collins as Pat’s college-student daughter Cecelia, who’s hopelessly smitten with Monroe (“I know he’s broken inside, but I can fix that” is an actual line of dialogue she says aloud) and Rosemarie DeWitt as Pat’s cagey wife Rose. That’s a lot of talent, and like Bomer, they do their very best — Collins, in particular, brings a spark of youthful enthusiasm that’s much needed here — but even they can’t salvage the thin characterizations they’re saddled with.

In the pilot alone, we’re subjected to both a blatantly foreshadowed suicide — a cheap stab at wringing some kind of emotion out of this story — and a truly groan-worthy final twist that reeks of narrative desperation. (“Please watch the next episode! Things are happening, we swear!”) And in the midst of all this flailing, Tycoon completely misses what makes the movie business so special. Hollywood was a shining beacon of hope for people suffering though the Depression, but rather than trying to convey some of that giddy, magical excitement, Tycoon wants to show us how miserable the people making that movie magic really were.

The Last Tycoon has all the glamorous trappings of old Hollywood: Amazon clearly threw lots of money at the screen, with sumptuous costumes by Mad Men designer Janie Bryant. But the joy is missing. When Monroe walks through a bustling soundstage at one point, you can feel the grand majesty of moviemaking — and what this show might’ve been. But before you know it, he walks out again and goes back to brooding. It’s all so grim and ponderous. Isn’t showbiz supposed to be fun? Or at least more fun than this?

THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: Don’t waste the popcorn: Amazon’s showbiz drama The Last Tycoon is a poorly plotted misfire crying out for a rewrite.

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22 Comments
  1. jason says:

    One of my top pet peeves with any kind of historical set drama is them applying our values in stories set in the past. Disappointed this show is doing that.

  2. I’ll give it a try anyway, this is just an opinion, Sorry to say, I decide on my own, reviews don’t matter to me.

  3. Nathan says:

    Anyone know when Mrs. Maisel is coming on? That premiere was lovely. Love Rachel

  4. MMD says:

    I don’t care – no offense Dave Nemetz. I will watch Matt Bomer read the phone book along with a few others like Walt Goggins, Timothy Olyphyant, Meryl Streep, Olivia Coleman, Nicola Walker or Sarah Lancashire.

  5. RichCD says:

    Has the reviewer seen any episodes other than the pilot? I watched that awhile ago, and thought it was okay, better than a ‘D’. But I’d rather see a few more episodes before making any final judgements.

  6. rainey13 says:

    I apparently saw a very different pilot than this reviewer. What I saw left me excited for more of the story behind the Brady studio. And since the Depression and the rise of the Nazis in Europe were two of the biggest driving forces defining this period, I don’t understand how they can be considered unnecessary sub-plots. In any event, I enjoyed the pilot, and await the new Season 1 episodes with great anticipation, this doom-and-gloom article did nothing to change that.

  7. Alex says:

    It’s based on a novel for God’s sake! If it’s slow paced, “pretentious”, “unrealistic” and so on, blame F. Scott Fitzgerald!

  8. Syl says:

    From my point of view all Matt Bomer has to do to be good on screen is show up. That being said, if the writing sucks I’ll stick to White Collar reruns.

  9. Mabulous says:

    Love Matt but hated this pilot and voted against it. Was surprised when this made the cut and the others up for vote did not. Thought it to be boring and mundane.

  10. Lynn Scripture says:

    This pilot left me on the edge of my seat waiting for more. It was not meant to be a comedy so if you want fun, clearly you should not watch. It is a very entertaining drama. I found it intriguing and exciting and cannot wait for July 28th.

  11. sandycamargo04 says:

    All of the things that the reviewer finds so objectionable in the characterization of Monroe Stahr were true of Irving Thalberg, Louis B. Mayer’s boy wonder at MGM. So there’s that. Except the dead wife.

  12. Dean says:

    Six of seven of this guys latest reviews have been negative.

    Is he that unlucky or could it be that he just enjoys tearing people down?

    Make sure you watch them yourselves and make up your own mind. Those who can’t do, critique.

  13. Em says:

    Good actors don’t always make the show but I like to make up my own mind about anything including movies. A review is just one persons opinion

  14. Did this reviewer watch anything other than the pilot? Judging by this review, the answer is ‘no’.

  15. Chaosrainz says:

    I watched the first 3 episodes earlier this week at the request of Amazon. I love most of the cast, and this is one of my favorite eras, but honestly it was sheer force of will to get thru all 3 episodes.

    There were some good moments here and there. The cast overall is talented and well cast. The sets and costumes, music…good. Writing, maybe a B-.

    But it’s so uneven. Each episode had the same issues. Too much jumping around, spots that dragged by, and at least when watching on my computer the streaming quality was bad. Scenes with too low level lighting, lots of buffering. I think a bit of editing and shorter episodes would help.

    I will say by midway of episode 3 Jennifer Beals starts to rock her part and things picked up.

    I might give one more episode a try since it seemed to be hitting stride but it took long enough.

  16. Patti says:

    I hate that this short sighted review might have prevented viewers from watching this series. It just got better and better with each episode and jthe cast was so enjoyable! If you like a smart, well acted series tune in…..you will not be disappointed.

  17. TVKirk says:

    Watched all 9, but I know I was being carried by my own passion for the era. Matt Bomer IS a good actor, and he certainly has moments in this series, but is ultimately hamstrung by the way the character is written. Likewise with most of the others, sadly, including Kelsey Grammer.

    I don’t want to throw any spoilers in, but ultimately I can’t really recommend it unless you really can be carried by the sets and costumes. It never delivers on the implied promise, beciming rather dull and maudlin, I’m very sorry to say.