Watching a newly infatuated George Jones (Michael Shannon) and Tammy Wynette (Jessica Chastain) perform together at a bar, country music producer Billy Sherrill (David Wilson Barnes) absorbs the audience’s enthusiastic response.
“Look at how they look at it,” he tells songwriter George “Rich” Richey (Steve Zahn) next to him. “George and Tammy are every man that ever loved a woman, and every woman that ever loved a man.” Rich suggests it’s “just poetry,” but Billy sees otherwise. “No poetry. Handel,’ he says, adding only after a pause, ‘And poetry too, I think.’
George & Tammy
It comes down to
Chastain and Shannon are a match made in country heaven.
broadcast date: Sunday, December 4 (Showtime & Paramount Network)
Form: Jessica Chastain, Michael Shannon, Steve Zahn, Kelly McCormack, Walton Goggins, David Wilson Barnes
Creator: Ab Sylvia
It’s true that the two are inseparable in Showtime’s George & Tammy, charting a relationship where the tumultuous romance fueled the top music, and vice versa. But it’s the first part of Billy’s statement that really gets to the heart of the series. This is, above all, a love story, almost as poignant and plaintive as the tunes the couple blasted to lasting fame.
Created by Abe Sylvia (who wrote last year’s Oscar-winning Chastain vehicle, Tammy Faye’s eyes) and directed by John Hillcoat (Triple 9), the miniseries is not meant to reinvent the artist-biopic wheel. The structure is a fairly simple chronicle of the couple’s journey – from their first meeting in the late ’60s through their rocky marriage in the ’70s to their final collaborations in the ’90s. (“Why would we let divorce ruin a really good relationship?” asks Tammy wryly.)
Nor does it completely manage to sidestep the clichés of a music biz drama, such as dubious wigs and hit songs deployed as overly literal descriptions of events we already see unfold. The premise can only appeal to people like Walk the line or A star is bornmost notably in a first episode that introduces Tammy as a rising star on the Nashville scene, and George as a somewhat faded one suffering from an alcohol addiction so severe that his bandmate (Walton Goggins) is forced to tape his knees with duct tape. paste to keep him upright enough to perform.
But perhaps because it’s based on a memoir written by someone so caught up in both of their lives — their only biological daughter, Georgette Jones — the series’ perspective remains unusually close and personal, focusing primarily on the relationship itself as experienced by the two. people in it. To tell that story, George & Tammy gives himself the luxury of time. While the series is a fast-paced series, in that it spans about a quarter of a century in six one-hour episodes, you have to be very careful not to rush the moments that make up those decades. It leaves room for uncertain silences, for meaningful glances, for playful moments with the children or quarrels that are repeated over and over in the course of time.
It mostly sticks to the way Tammy and George are used to being Look each other, and Chastain and Shannon speak volumes by the way their eyes light up or darken or soften around each other. That both deliver exceptional performances should come as no surprise (even if their impressive singing voices do). But in scenes together, the intensity of their chemistry seems to show each of them in a whole new light.
From that angle, labels and stereotypes that might apply from afar tend to melt away. Tammy is not just a gentle little lady who stands by a man who has wronged her, but an ambitious talent whose love outweighs her reservations until it fails. George is a scare when he’s drunk, and George & TammyThe poignant depictions of his violent outbursts do not excuse his behavior. But he’s also more than the sum of his worst habits, and the series goes to great lengths to showcase the gentleness and wit that were also an integral part of his personality. You can judge their choices – and the series is well aware of how destructive and tragic many of them will turn out to be – but you will at least understand how they got there.
The interplay with such intimacy is a sense of space. The pair’s explosive successes can be seen from snippets of dialogue about charts and records, or from shots of glamorous locations and roaring crowds. Tammy and George’s places in country music history or culture in general are hinted at here and there, by questions from a fan about Tammy’s anti-feminist messages or addressed to George by a radio host about his views on modern country music. But the series doesn’t dwell on such issues long enough to make a definite statement about what George and Tammy’s lives and careers could mean for those outside of themselves. Incidentally, it does not even dig very deep into their relationships with those close to them, such as their next husbands or their children.
Yet, in a certain light, this narrow-mindedness reads less as a limitation than as a show of empathy. During George & Tammy, George expresses his ambivalence about the divide between “George Jones,” the charismatic star loved by millions, and “Glenn,” the troubled human man he actually understands himself to be. That this series exists at all is a testament to the enduring appeal of the former: plain old Glenns don’t get glossy Hollywood projects about their lives, and this series’ A-list cast, sensitive direction, and inescapably catchy soundtrack will keep George Jones legend alive. and Tammy Wynette to a fresh audience of TV viewers. In the end, however, it is the latter that proves the key. George & Tammy succeeds where so many other biopics fail: by bringing the subjects to life not as legends – but simply as a man and a woman, deeply and imperfectly in love.