JUMP RIGHT IN, THE WATER IS FINE
The original 1994 film “Swimming with Sharks” starred Kevin Spacey as famed Hollywood producer Buddy Ackerman, whose less-than-kind ways earned him an adversary in Guy [Frank Whaley] – the young studio executive willing to do anything to make it to the top. It’s a Hollywood tale so embedded into the industry, that it’s a prominent theme both on-screen and off.
Kathleen Robertson (“Beverly Hills, 90210”) wrote, and executive produced the latest iteration of “Swimming with Sharks,” giving it a bit of an update. Post #MeToo, it would be seemingly impossible to pull off a sexually charged show about an assistant and their boss engaging in a questionable relationship, but switching it up with two strong female leads, allows for a “Single White Female” type of story to emerge, giving this version an intriguing twist.
Kiernan Shipka (“Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” “Mad Men”) plays Lou Simms, a young and seemingly innocent intern who moves to the City of Angels with big dreams. We see that her aspirations immediately tie into powerhouse CEO Joyce Holt, played by Diane Kruger (“Inglourious Basterds”), whose controversial rise to the top has left her bitter, cold, on the verge of divorce, and clinging to a career that could toss her away just as easily as she trashes her interns.
Early on, Lou appears to know how to navigate her boss’s demands, quickly earning praise and promotion. In a line of assistants that includes Travis [Thomas Dekker] and Alex [Ross Butler], Lou takes an any-means-necessary approach to climbing her way to the top of that coveted list. Joyce’s climb to the top in Hollywood is revealed not to have been an easy one either. The all-too-true-to-life character of Fountain Pictures Chairman, Redmond [Donald Sutherland], depicts a lecherous, old, misogynistic, racist studio head preying on young, ambitious women who have to fight just to get a seat at the table. The relationship between him and Joyce, and the backstory on how she got to where she is, evokes understanding and even forgiveness after some pretty intolerable behavior.
The drive behind Lou’s desire to get close to Joyce becomes clear once we get a look at her past. On top of creating the series, Robertson also stars as Olive Mace (Lou’s mentally unstable mother). At first, it’s hard to tell whether Lou wants to be Joyce or be with Joyce, but as other characters come into play, their stories unfold and begin to weave together a tantalizing tale of mystery and seduction.
One commonality all the characters share is that they’ll stop at nothing to get what they want. While her career is still number one, Joyce desperately wants a child with her philandering husband, Miles [Gerardo Celasco], before it’s too late. Lou wants to prove her worth to Joyce, which means securing a movie deal with best-selling author Meredith Lockhart [Erika Alexander] by participating in some downright dirty bathroom behavior. Marty [Finn Jones], the VP of Development, has a soft spot for Lou, but after the body count around them begins to rise, he gets rightfully suspicious. This leads to the introduction of Detective Witter [Angel Lake Moore] and Detective Floriani [Ryan O’Nan], who eventually bring everything full circle.
While the age-old Hollywood story is nothing we haven’t seen before, the twist that Robertson puts into each of the six 30-minute episodes, layering the nuances of the characters and creating these tawdry plotlines, makes this story feel different. One minute into episode one, I was already picking my jaw up off the floor. The series is the onscreen equivalent of a page-turning novel that caters to all of your guilty pleasures. “Swimming with Sharks” is provocative and daring. It’s a sordid tale of sex, obsession, and the lengths one will go to to make it in Hollywood.
Shipka is magnetic as Lou, making you question every move, every possible outcome. It’s the perfect counter to Kruger. Lou whittles away at Joyce’s rough exterior, exposing her vulnerability and humanity. The two do a delicate dance of right and wrong that leaves you feeling like the only bad guy in all of this is Donald Sutherland, whose portrayal of Redmond is nothing short of spectacular. It’s a binge-worthy thrill ride that takes you through the ups and downs of Hollywood and, somewhere between fantasy and reality, leaves you on the edge of reason.
“Swimming with Sharks” is directed by Tucker Gates. It’s executive produced by Chris Cowles, Liz Destro, Stephen Israel, Jay Cohen, and Dana Brunetti. The show was created in partnership with Lionsgate Television.
All six episodes are available now on The Roku Channel. Let’s hope for a Season 2.
Published on Hollywood First Look