‘Ratched’ replaces a classic character with Ryan Murphy

Sunday, September 20, 2020 - 5:07pm

NOSELL

Netflix

On a list of iconic movie villains, Nurse Ratched from the 1975 Academy Award-winning “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” usually ranks near the top. Based on the 1962 novel by the same name, the film quickly became a beloved part of American pop culture, mostly because of Jack Nicholson’s charismatic portrayal of Randle McMurphy as he struggles against Nurse Ratched’s oppressive practices on her psychiatric ward. 

“Ratched” is uninterested in acknowledging that legacy. Instead, it opts to be indistinguishable from any season of “American Horror Story” or otherwise generic Ryan Murphy production. Focusing on the titular nurse, this new Netflix series explores the origins of a Mildred Ratched (Sarah Paulson, “Mrs. America”) as she transitions from caring, compassionate caregiver to cold-hearted sadist. 

Like most Ryan Murphy shows, “Ratched” opens on a brutal and bloody massacre. This massacre is of an entire Catholic clergy house of priests in 1947. A few months later, the killer, Edmond Tolleson (Finn Wittrock, “American Horror Story”), is headed to a psychiatric facility in scenic Lucia, California so that doctors can determine if he’s clinically insane or if he’s fit to stand trial and possibly recieve the death penalty.

Like Tolleson, Nurse Ratched is also headed to secure a job at the Lucia hospital. When the head of the facility, Dr. Hanover (Jon Jon Briones, “American Crime Story”), is hesitant to hire her, Mildred begins manipulating the staff, patients and even the governor of California in order to rise through the ranks and get close to the mysterious new admission, Tolleson. Before long, she’s befriended the governor’s wife Gwendolyn (Cynthia Nixon, “Sex and the City”) and secured her place as a the woman behind the curtain.

“Ratched” fails to stand out from the crowd of other Ryan Murphy shows on TV right now. Nearly every scene feels cut and pasted from “American Horror Story: Asylum” or the fellow Netflix series “Hollywood.” While the monochromatic color palette, sharp-tongued dialogue and graphic moments of sex and violence may have been groundbreaking a few years ago, this formula does “Ratched” little favors. This campy, slasher TV genre of the 2010s desensitized audiences long ago — there is nothing truly shocking left. 

Perhaps the most infuriating thing about this new series, however, is that it doesn’t feel remotely adjacent to its source material. The only thing connecting the titular character of “Ratched” to the villain of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is a name. What makes Nurse Ratched such an iconic character is the savagery of her mundanity, the weaponization of bureaucracy to suppress the vulnerable. With a show as in-your-face and over the top as “Ratched,” there’s no room for subtlety, reality or even just compelling commentary.

“Ratched” may find inspiration in its title, but the similarities end there. If viewers watch this series expecting something that honors the 1975 film, they’ll be disappointed. If viewers watch this series without knowing who Nurse Ratched is, they might enjoy the frivolity of the excessive gore and the 1940’s glamour. Without properly grounding itself, this Netflix series will waste its potential to revisit a classic character and remain indistinguishable from every other unnecessarily gritty franchise reboot on television.


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