Netflix/Further Films/Lighthouse Management+Media/Ryan Murphy Television/
Created by Evan Romansky
Developed by Ryan Murphy
Music by Mac Quayle
Based on the character of Nurse Ratched from “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey and from the Saul Zaentz Company motion picture of the same title
Merriam-Webster defines Grand Guignol as being “dramatic entertainment featuring the gruesome or horrible.” You can find other definitions that go into a little more detail as well but Grand Guignol works for me as I attribute it to movies and TV shows that are highly stylized with melodrama and visuals cranked up to 11 and I think that RATCHED fits solidly into the style of Grand Guignol.
The visual style of RATCHED is definitely odd and made me feel slightly disoriented and it took me a couple of episodes before I understood why. This is a world that looks as if it were freshly created. The cars are all showroom shiny, the interiors gleaming and sparkling. The clothes worn by the men and women look as if they just came off the rack. There’s no wear or tear on anything. The highways and roads have no potholes. There are no brand names on anything. Gas stations are simply “Gas” and motels are simply “Motel.” Nothing in this world looks as if it’s ever been used. It’s so bright and shiny and new it’s unreal and unnatural.
The cinematographers, art directors and set decorators of RATCHED work hard at creating a universe that looks as if Douglas Sirk, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick and Wes Anderson collaborated on designing it. There are no pastel colors here. Everything is almost Technicolor, that’s how bright and splashy the colors are. The Lucia State Hospital where most of the horrors we’ll see unfold over eight episodes might have been designed by the same architect that built The Overlook Hotel. All of the rooms are three times normal size. The director of the Lucia has an office that looks to be the size of a basketball court. The unnatural hugeness of the rooms lends to the unreality of the whole thing and gives it a truly unique visual look. RATCHED makes no effort at all to pretend this is taking place in anything like the real world and it’s an approach I like a lot.
It’s been years since I’ve seen the movie “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” and I’ve never read the novel so I can’t say with any certainty how much of the background of Mildred Ratched (Louise Fletcher) comes from those sources. My guess is that very little. This is an origin story for the character, taking place in the 1940’s some twenty years before the events of the novel. Who wanted an origin story for Nurse Ratched? I have no idea but it seems as if origin stories and world-building are what people demand in their entertainment these days so here we are.
And entertaining is most certainly the word for it. Right from the start we see how coolly manipulative Ratched is as she talks her way in a job at the Lucia State Hospital, a mental hospital in Northern California. And by doing so she acquires an enemy; Head Nurse Betty Bucket (Judy Davis) who is hopelessly in love with the hospital’s director, Dr. Richard Hanover (Jon Jon Briones). Dr. Hanover greatly intrigues Nurse Ratched due to his barbarically innovative treatments of various mental disorders. Including lobotomy using an ice pick and hammer. Ratched has come to this hospital by design. Her major interest is one of the patients, a mass murderer named Edmund Tolleson who has brutally slaughtered four priests. Hanover believes he can cure Tolleson but Governor George Willburn (Vincent D’Onofrio) insists that Tolleson must stand trial and be executed to ensure Willburn’s re-election and he holds the hospital’s state funding hostage until Hanover complies. Behind the scenes Ratched is busily working at increasing her influence with Dr. Hanover and undermining Nurse Bucket to gain more power in the hospital which she plans to use in her ultimate goal involving Tolleson.
While that’s going on at the hospital, back at the hotel Ratched engages in a wicked battle of wills with the owner of the hotel (an utterly hilarious Amanda Plummer) and has a sort-of sexual relationship with Wainwright (Corey Stoll) your obligatory sleazy P.I. who is necessary for a story of this kind. He’s been hired by the obscenely wealthy Mrs. Lenore Osgood (Sharon Stone) to investigate Dr. Hanover for reasons I dare not reveal here as it’s one of the best shockers of the season.
RATCHED works so well because of the experience of the cast, all of whom are solid, dependable players we’ve watched and enjoyed their work for years. Besides the ones I’ve already mentioned we’ve also got Roseanna Arquette, Cynthia Nixon and Sophie Okenedo who really tears it up as a patient suffering multiple personality disorder. It’s amazing to watch her go from one personality to another, changing not only her voice but her body language and facial expressions as well for each one. It’s all held down and anchored by Sarah Paulson who has developed into one of the best actresses working in television today. The only one better is Regina King, I think. I also loved the pseudo-Bernard Herrmann music provided by Mac Quayle. At times I could swear I was listening to music from “Psycho” and “Vertigo”
RATCHED starts off promising. There’s only eight episodes which I loved as I’m exhausted with those streaming series that have a whole chunk of episodes in the middle masquerading as “characterization” or “plot development” but are actually nothing but bloat wasting my time. Give me a series like RATCHED that hits the ground running at top speed and knows exactly what it is, what it’s supposed to do and not afraid to deliver the shocks, scares and “WTF” moments when it’s supposed to and does it with gusto and style.