After years of success creating and producing various content for television, Ryan Murphy has delivered yet another show: Ratched. The new Netflix series showcases another twisted story from Murphy’s mind. However, the show disappoints as it struggles to balance its tones, not helped by its lackluster narrative.
Ratched follows Mildred Ratched (Sarah Paulson), the antagonist of Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. After a horrific mass murder admits Edmund Tolleson (Finn Wittrock) into a mental hospital run by Dr. Richard Hanover (Jon Jon Briones), Ratched arrives in town, hoping to acquire a job at said hospital. Once she does, Ratched works to rise in the ranks, all the while her dark secrets follow suit and begin to surface.
Ratched’s biggest weakness is its identity struggle. While Ryan Murphy’s previous work includes both darker shows like American Horror Story and more comedic ones like Scream Queens, Ratched seems to want to be that perfect middle, balancing its comedic moments with bleak drama. Unfortunately, the tones simply clash far too greatly, which leaves the viewer a bit confused on how to feel during many pivotal moments. It is obvious that, had the show set a clearer tone for its narrative, it would have most likely been a much better final result.
Though the tone is not the only problem with Ratched. The story fails to grab its audience greatly, which can be a problem for viewers hoping to binge the series on Netflix. The characters are regrettably quite bland, due completely to their writing. It’s evident that the actors are trying, and each and every one of them do their absolute best with what they are given, which can be weak for a lot of the time. That’s not to say the script for the series is entirely bad. It absolutely has its moments, with the fifth episode being a standout as the strongest by far, due to its character development, although it fails to save the mediocre storyline at large.
LGBTQ representation plays a huge part in Ratched, and it is done extremely well, showing a realistic portrayal of these sort of issues and how they were viewed in the 1940’s. Sarah Paulson and Cynthia Nixon portray the lesbian relationship at the center of the show with great emotional strength. Other performances that standout are Finn Wittrock and Alice Englert, who portray the troubled relationship of Edmund and young nurse Dolly perfectly, and Charlie Carver, who manages to pull off the sad, innocent nature of the injured veteran turned hospital worker Huck Finnigan.
While the series has its problems, one aspect of that couldn’t be more perfect is its visuals. The production design, costumes, and cinematography all prove to be top-notch, and are undoubtedly the best part of what is offered. They capture the image of the 1940’s flawlessly, feeling incredibly natural, not at all manufactured, which can often be a problem when trying to tell a story set in the past. Another stellar aspect is the score, composed by Mac Quayle. The music unironically manages to grasp the confusing tone, while fitting in nicely with the niche aesthetic. A particularly great piece is the show’s main theme, which is a legitimately chilling piece of music that feels incredibly strange to listen to, due to how different it is from a typical theme for television.
Ratched is not a bad show by any means. It has some great moments, the actors all deliver great performances, and its technical aspects are absolutely wonderful. Though all these good qualities fail to make up for the lackluster plot, which tries as hard as it can to hold together the jumbled, confused tone of the series. The script just can’t bear that weight, thus crumbling greatly. The makings of a stellar show are clearly there, and with a few better decisions, it absolutely would’ve been one. Hopefully, Ratched can improve in its already confirmed second season.