The title of Z: The Beginning of Everything is ironic given that Amazon’s new biographical series gets off to a very rocky start. But like its subject, Zelda Fitzgerald, it’s also innovative even if it ultimately falls short of her dazzle. Z: The Beginning of Everything kicks off just before Zelda Sayer (Christina Ricci) meets future husband Francis Scott (David Hoflin) in Montgomery, Alabama, and takes the rare road of exploring a person’s life not through a filmic formula but that of a series (a half hour series, no less, which is a rare thing for a drama). There are many benefits to this, and it helps Z skip some of the more rote beats that a biopic typically forces. But Z also doesn’t take full advantage of its sprawling TV time, swimming mostly in the shallows while only occasionally diving deeper.
The marriage of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of the literary world’s most tumultuous, from their early nuptials to wild parties and alcoholism, as they battled mental illness and mutual infidelity (not to mention mutual plagiarism). Yet as of Z’s first season, most of that is yet to come, and instead, the romance and early days of their marriage is shown to hint at later woes — though not yet of Zelda’s battles with her own demons. Instead, she holds things together for the floundering Scott, who has achieved just enough success early in their relationship to allow them to borrow a lot of money, spend it all, and then be confused and upset when it’s all gone. (Rinse, repeat).
The narrative arc of the first season of Z is all over the place, and the setting goes from a syrupy sweet portrayal of southern life (and accents, lawd help the accents), to a hedonistic New York without exploring either place with any depth. Zelda and Scott float from one location to the next, both struggling to define themselves and find happiness while also feeling solidly co-dependent, but the series only flirts with the nuances of a young marriage between two creatives. One thing it is very clear about is its feeling that Zelda is not just the beginning of everything, but everything itself. Scott comes off as a bit of a petulant loser who is jealous of Zelda’s successes, and often steals her work and passes it off as his own. The Roaring Twenties (and the couples’ grand embrace of it) is more of a backdrop than anything else, but the show is still incredibly atmospheric, and puts in fine details to its set decorations and costuming that create an immersive viewing experience.
Like Zelda, Christina Ricci is the shinning star of the piece, dancing as fast as she can to hold things together. She gives Zelda shading that the script often doesn’t, portraying her overlooked intelligence with knowing glances and a bold, take-charge attitude. And while Zelda is often the adult in the relationship, she’s also a child, one who can be spoiled and bored, and who would rather party than do house chores. But Scott doesn’t pick up the slack when she does collapse, and instead pleads with her to be strong — because without her, what would be do? This repetition can get tiresome, though, and the first season only covers the first year or so of their marriage. What should be a tale of chaos and glamour becomes a little dull, even though it occasionally has moments that shine.