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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Feud is a series about the making of the 1962 movie What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and the women who starred in it. Besides the incessant smoking (in one scene Davis reaches for her cigarettes the second her alarm goes off) and constant drinking (every adult drinks at every social occasion; Crawford is an alcoholic who slurs, stumbles, explodes), the chief concern for parents will be the many concerning messages about women, particularly older women. Crawford and Davis are often called "washed up" or "has beens," with no worth because of their age. Parents may wish to talk about these statements with young viewers -- does the phenomenal and long-lasting success of Baby Jane show them to be untrue? Strong language includes "f--k," "f--king," "bulls--t," "hell," "c--t," "goddamn," "ass," "bitch," "s--t," "tits," "Jesus," "crap," "screw." There are graphic jokes about women's body parts, references to infidelity; a man and woman kiss before falling into bed (the camera then cuts away). In real life, Crawford was a spokesperson for Pepsi, which is described here as "s---y sugar water" but it's a plot point, too, with its logos and bottles shown frequently.
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What's the story?
In the 1940s, Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) and Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) were the biggest movie stars in the world, and fierce rivals who engaged in a long-running FEUD in gossip columns. But by 1961, everyone viewed them as washed up, too old to be cast as anything but a grandma. So Crawford went looking for her own project, and found it in a suspense book titled What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Soon Bette and Joan were starring in their very own horror movie -- both on- and offscreen.
Is it any good?
With lush sets and clothes, ironic feminist subtext, and gossip even Baby Jane fans haven't heard, this series is a positively enthralling treat for vintage vultures. Ryan Murphy, a big Baby Jane fan himself, is clearly relishing unpacking the meta behind the 1962 mega-hit that launched the mini horror genre known variously as "psycho-biddy," or "hag horror," i.e. movies about older women. These movies seemed to view aging women as repulsive monsters, and carried with them a "good news/bad news" message: good news, there are parts for both Bette and Joan! Bad news, Bette's going to be a terrifying madwoman, Joan a faded, helpless wraith.
But at home, off the set, Sarandon and Lange play these outsized stars as vibrant, yet vulnerable women, tragically warring with each other instead of with the system that put them out to pasture. Still, what a pasture! The elegant furs, vintage evening wear, and designer furniture is enough reason to pause to admire every painterly shot -- particularly the ones that reveal Crawford's furniture covered in custom-made plastic protectors, just like in real life. Fans may be pausing, too, to look up period details: Did Crawford really upstage Davis when signing the movie's contracts? Did Davis really kick Crawford in the head accidentally on purpose while shooting? Feud is the rare show that works both on a guilty-pleasure level and on a deeper one, with the Crawford-Davis rivalry digging into questions about stardom, regret, and the value of older women in a culture that doesn’t always recognize their value.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what old Hollywood was like for women, in general and in Feud. Despite their outward hostility, how do Bette and Joan show teamwork in making and publicizing Baby Jane? How do both of their long careers demonstrate perseverance?
Characters often make disparaging remarks about older women in general and Bette and Joan in particular. Do you think this show agrees with what's being said?
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