Gypsy review: sex, lies and that empty feeling

Naomi Watts and Billy Crudup get lost down rabbit hole of mind games

Naomi Watts in Gypsy: this show does  not trust its viewers to grasp its subtleties

Naomi Watts in Gypsy: this show does not trust its viewers to grasp its subtleties

 

 Psychologists do not swear the Hippocratic Oath but “Do no harm” would still count as sound advice for Dr Jean Holloway Phd - played by Naomi Watts -  a willowy therapist in Manhattan who begins secretly meddling in the lives of her patients. Television makers are even less beholden to strict codes of conduct, and yet there’s enough evidence of artistic negligence in Gypsy (Netflix, now streaming) to suggest somebody gets struck off the dramatic register.

In a somnambulant voice over, which will inform the tone of the series to come, Watts’s listless character walks through the city, considering free will and unconscious desires, concluding, “we might actually be someone else”. Then she slips down a staircase into a café called The Rabbit Hole. Like Jean and her patients, Lisa Rubin’s TV show does not display immense respect for its viewer, whom it clearly does not trust to grasp its subtleties.

Take the lingering look at Jean’s notebook, as she circles the word “boundaries” while consulting with an overbearing mother. Or the parted lips and darting eyes of acknowledgement that Watts must supply every time a patient says something that applies to her. Without pills, “everything is grey… You ever felt like that?” Yes, yes she has.

And so, burdened with a handsome lawyer husband (Billy Crudup) and a bright tomboy daughter, Jean plunges down the literary allusion, pursuing the toxic girlfriend of one patient, the toxic pills of another, and the toxic daughter of a third. She will become someone else.

Only Jean is not at all good at it. Her affluent life is barely stifled enough to make her a convincing imposter; she is not sociopathic enough to make her actions fascinating; and, more to the point, she’s a uniquely terrible liar.

As cover, she calls herself Diane, a freelance writer who likes bourbon and only ever seems to ask stupid questions: “What is it like being you?” (Conversely, she’s a very opinionated shrink.)

If that didn’t already give you an idea of the boundless imagination of the show, just look at its attempt to depict Jean’s dangerous living, bopping around a depopulated warehouse party, somehow more awkwardly than any of director Sam Taylor-Johnson’s tie-up-and-tease work on Fifty Shades of Grey.

A struggling writer finally seems less an alter ego for Jean, than a concession to her true nature, someone stealing words from others, hungry for any personality than her own, and ultimately entirely unsure what to make of people. Gypsy, move on.

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