New Netflix show “Ratched” tries its hand at backstory

Poised actress Sarah Paulson puts on a cunning display of Ken Kesey's character.

Colleen Hammond

Managing Editor

10/08/20

Just in time for the Halloween season, Netflix’s newest attempt at a horror series, Ratched, is available to stream.

 

Ratched is the latest creation from the mind of gay television icon Ryan Murphy. Murphy, a six-time Emmy winner, is the creative mind behind some of the most groundbreaking television of the past decade. His vast credits include Glee, American Horror Story, The People vs. OJ Simpson, The Assassination of Gianna Versace, Pose and The Politician.

 

Back in 2018, Murphy scored a $300 million five-year deal with Netflix that included the production of at least 10 projects, including four TV shows, three movies and three documentaries. Ratched is just the newest show to be born out of this landmark deal.

 

Ratched, starring Sarah Paulson, puts a glamorous, campy spin on the origin story of Ken Kesey’s infamous antagonist from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Nurse Mildred Ratched. Nurse Ratched, known for her icy demeanor and authoritarian tactics in Kesey’s novel and the subsequent film of the same title, takes on a very different form under Murphy’s supervision.

 

This new show paints the iconic character as an “angel of mercy” rather than a harbinger of domination and control. While she is despised in original text, her companions in the new show fall head over heels for her charm, wit and impeccable style.

 

Paulson’s portrayal of Nurse Ratched is a sight to behold. Although the show greatly varies from previous renditions of the character, Paulson breathes new life into the role with spunk and class. Her biting sarcasm buried behind a facade of gentility makes her performance thrilling for the audience. Paulson brings a new life to a character often seen as one-sided, and it is fair to say she carries the show on her heavily padded shoulders. Paulson is just one of several actors in the show who are frequently cast in Murphy’s projects. Her presence in the show helps give it that classic touch.

 

As with everything Murphy does, this show is highly stylized. As a director and producer, Murphy has an extremely specific aesthetic, and it is so recognizable that any viewer of his work could easily pick it out in a crowd. Murphy is known for shows that hyper-romanticize an era. Ratched is no exception.

 

Set in California in the late 1940’s, Murphy takes his affinity for bright colors to a new extreme. Every shot is saturized to the point where the colors appear neon. This is evident in the red lipstick frequently worn in the time period, the vivid blue water on the California shoreline, Nurse Ratched’s teal car and, most notably, the jarringly blue nurses uniforms worn in almost every scene. While Murphy’s ambition and risks with color should be applauded, Ratched takes it just too far.

 

In addition to the overly noisy colors, Ratched fails to impress on the basis of originality. This feels like an amalgamation of all Murphy’s previous work and lacks that freshness audiences are used to seeing with him. It has the soapy drama of The Politician, the stylized gore and violence of American Horror Story, the overt homosexual themes from Pose and the 40s glamour of Hollywood.

 

Unfortunately, audiences have seen Murphy do all this before. It is merely a repetition and rebranding of his past successes. For a director and producer known for pushing boundaries and taking risks, Ratched falls flat and greatly disappoints.

 

Aside from Paulson’s acting, there are few redeeming qualities of the show. The writing is lazy and has obvious plot holes. The characters do very little to grow or develop, with many contradicting themselves over and over. The relationships across the board are flat and lack dimensionality and chemistry.

 

Despite these glaring flaws, there is one truly brilliant scene in the show. Set in children’s puppet theater, the scene tells the story of Nurse Ratched’s troubled childhood through some truly terrifying marionnettes. This bizarre puppet show from hell is narrated by a ghastly pale carnival barker. The scene is haunting, skin-crawlingly creepy and altogether fabulous. Had Murphy matched this energy throughout the rest of the show, Ratched would have been significantly more successful.

Overall, Ratched fails to excite. It is the perfect show to half-watch while folding laundry, but is not worth eight episodes of intense binge-watching.