It is rare to see dramatic television produced in a 20-minute format and be successful — take “Downton Abbey,” “Sherlock” and “Game of Thrones” as strong examples of dramas whose air time is significantly lengthened past the standard 40 minute slot — yet, as Laurel Ulrich once said, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”
“Z: The Beginning of Everything” is an Amazon-produced series that follows the relationship between Southern belle Zelda Sayre (Christina Ricci, “The Lizzie Borden Chronicles”) and author F. Scott Fitzgerald (David Hoflin, “Once Upon a Time”). To say that their relationship was a tumultuous one would be the understatement of the century. A marriage riddled with alcoholism and accusations of infidelity, the Fitzgeralds were a revolutionary couple in a time when flappers and liquor began to push conservative boundaries. A rebellious couple rivaled only by Bonnie and Clyde, Zelda and her husband lived a carefree lifestyle, accentuated by the social scene and high-class pampering that accompanies fame. Though Zelda Fitzgerald might be permanently branded into history textbooks for her struggles with mental illness and her relationship with F. Scott, the first episode of “Z” shows us a side of Zelda rarely seen — a girl who craved the spotlight and is a force to be reckoned with.
As the opening sequence of “Z” comes across the screen, it’s easy to see why Christina Ricci was chosen to portray the infamous novelist. What Ricci lacks in physical description, she makes up in bravado in a daring and enchanting manner. Rule-breaker and cigarette smoker, the writers, at times, exhaust themselves in reminding viewers of Zelda’s Flapper-esque lifestyle. Ricci presents a younger Zelda, who makes up what she lacks in proper social cues with a fierce and burning intelligence. Though the series is considerably and noticeably cliched, it paints an interesting portrait of a young, yet troubled, Zelda. And for any fan of “The Great Gatsby,” it’s not hard to miss the parallels drawn between Zelda and Scott’s relationship to that of Jay and Daisy. These only serve to further drive home the fact that the show’s intended audience is likely the modern bibliophile. If it’s not irony then I’m not sure what is.
Cliched throwaway lines and stereotypes aside, it’s hard not to take note of the grandeur of “Z,” which makes use of the dazzling sets and sparkling costumes of the roaring twenties. As promised, the series aims to take us from the grassroots beginnings of Zelda’s upbringing in the South to the streets of New York City, chronicling her passion with F. Scott as the series progresses. The scene changes are a clever way to approach the timeline and progression of fame between the two. While Zelda may write softly in her journal back home in Montgomery, I’m certain that the New York City scene will bring her towards a ferocious writing style as she delves further into the myth and less so into the person herself. That being said, the series has showed a serious struggle with depth, as many of the problems that arise feel like repetitive, tired-out tropes. However, so long as Ricci can continue portraying the young rebel in the same manner she has in the pilot, I’m certain that the series itself can rewrite history.