Paramount+’s Surprisingly Light The Offer Charts the Success of The Godfather and Its Own Studio

TV Reviews The Offer
Paramount+’s Surprisingly Light The Offer Charts the Success of The Godfather and Its Own Studio

Paramount+’s The Offer, about the known and unknown history of making The Godfather, is one of two upcoming projects about the iconic gangster film. In contrast with its rival biopic Francis and the Godfather, this 10-episode miniseries uses producer Albert S. Ruddy (Miles Teller) as its central character as he navigates the challenges of creating a film deemed controversial in Italian-American New York politics. Those problems come in the form of Congressman Mario Biaggi (Danny Nucci), the Joe Colombo-led mafia, and the executives at Gulf+Western (Paramount’s former parent company) interfering with the production while director Francis Ford Coppola (Dan Fogler) fights for his vision.

Created by Michael Tolkin alongside Leslie Greif, with direction split between Adam Arkin, Dexter Fletcher, and Colin Bucksey, The Offer is a story about the wild things that can happen when you’re chasing dreams in the moviemaking business and navigating the shifting tides of unstable relationships. While the style of the opening credits signals “prestige TV,” The Offer feels too fun and melodramatic to be put into that category, yet it’s not self-consciously garish enough to be camp. For a show about a mob movie that features actual murders, it’s also surprisingly lacking in grit.

Time moves swiftly in the piece, as a struggling Mario Puzo’s (Patrick Gallo) The Godfather soon becomes a best-seller, provoking the anger of Frank Sinatra (Frank John Hughes), who brings it to the attention of the mafia—meaning Joe Colombo (Giovanni Ribisi). Meanwhile, our central hero Al Ruddy moves into a position working for Paramount Pictures under the legendary Robert Evans (Matthew Goode), whose VP of production, Peter Bart (Josh Zuckerman), puts him onto The Godfather, a book Paramount had picked up early.

Ruddy recruits Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo to write the screenplay, with Coppola directing. Through the process of assembling a cast and crew, and developing and marketing the film, they continuously run into trouble: from the mafia and Colombo to Congressman Biaggi, to the ever-antagonistic, uptight Gulf+Western executive Barry Lapidus (Colin Hanks). In the end, after various run-ins and hurdles that turns enemies into friends and friends into enemies, the always calm Ruddy triumphs with the help of his clever secretary and unofficial assistant producer, Bettye McCartt (Juno Temple) and their hard-scrabble team, before moving on to produce The Longest Yard.

The Offer’s greatest success is in delivering the early 1970s as a second Hollywood Golden Age through outstanding individual performances. Giovanni Ribisi and Matthew Goode, with Ribisi’s quieter gangster and Goode’s scenery chewing Paramount exec, are the two actors most prominently taking swings with their characters and idiosyncrasies to their edge. Meanwhile, Burn Gorman’s transformation into Gulf+Western owner/CEO Charles Bluhdorn comes from a mastery of accent, gait, and a naturally expressive tight-pulled face that lends itself differently expressing authority in The Offer than in the currently airing Halo, where he’s a bad guy.

It’s also great fun to see actors playing actors playing familiar characters; Anthony Ippolito’s Al Pacino and Justin Chambers’s Marlon Brando are excellent examples of that here, with Dan Fogler portraying Francis Ford Coppola as a driven, sometimes difficult artist committed to a masterpiece. Contrasting that energy is Gallo’s Puzo, a mostly happy-to-be-there novelist whose life and countenance transform for the better when he writes the novel and makes the movie.

But it’s Juno Temple’s McCartt who is the heart of the show, similar to her role as Keeley Jones on Apple TV+’s Ted Lasso (though with an effective American accent). She and Stephanie Koenig’s casting director Andrea Eastman are the avatars of the women’s perspective in film production. Unfortunately, Meredith Garretson is less memorable as Bob Evan’s foil, Ali MacGraw, the actress with whom he shared an ill-fated marriage, and Nora Arnezeder starts off as captivating businesswoman Francoise Glazer (who is Ruddy’s rock early on), but she fades away unceremoniously after the few scenes where Ruddy is presented as imperfect.

And that’s a big part of the problem with The Offer. Teller’s Ruddy is a functional performance held back by being written as unflappable and nearly flawless, limiting any potential for internal conflict as the closest thing to an audience proxy. Like the documentarians too close to Kanye in Netflix’s Jeen-yuhs documentary, this series is hampered by the fact that its subject is a high-powered exec at the production studio—a studio that also made this series. Plus, as the designated ringmaster, he’s the least interesting even as the show argues he’s the most important.

Goode is the one, as Evans, who absolutely commands the camera’s attention whenever he’s on screen. In some ways the series conveys a hagiography for Evans and a love letter to Paramount as much as it is to The Godfather (which again, given where it’s airing is of little surprise). Unfortunately, some of Evans’s monologues are accompanied by sappy music, overselling sentiment to the audience and taking away from the presentation of the character’s own salesmanship. The hagiography itself also calls back to that overall problem of The Offer being afraid to be too critical of anyone: allusions are made to Evans’s womanizing, but he’s mostly presented as a romantic who had his heart broken and fell into a drug-addled depression that he pulled himself out of; Bluhdorn makes casual passes at McCartt, but he respects her too much to press her, which is easier to see than it is to believe.

All the stress of “how did they get this done?” comes from Colin Hanks’ Lapidus, a major thorn in the side of the production, a bean-counter who represents the economic, bottom-line impetus of corporate-controlled Hollywood. Every time he’s on screen, alongside Paul McCrane as Jack Ballard, you think “what are they gonna mess up now?” Lapidus isn’t mustache-twirling or exactly two-dimensional, but his late-season change in perspective feels epiphanic because the audience doesn’t get a clear idea of his interiority. Lapidus frequently sounds like the archetypal financial bottom line figure that has helped (in various eras) to sand the edges off movies to make them, above all, consumable. Coppola stresses in the series that The Godfather is about capitalism. So is The Offer. Nicely enough, the large corporation that made the series saw fit to represent the triumph of The Godfather as a triumph of filmmakers over accountants. Unfortunately, the consistency of that tone makes the meddling of the suits seem idiotic not just retrospectively, but in the fictionalized moment.

Still, even before Lapidus arrives among the good guys, he contributes to another thesis of The Offer: that filmmaking is a collaborative effort. While the audience spends more time with principal characters like Ruddy, Evans, and Coppola, the show also impresses the importance of Eastman’s casting, Gordon Willis’s (T.J. Thyne) cinematography, and Dean Tavoularis’s (Eric Balfour) production design. Increasingly, the film- and TV-watching public are familiar with not just actors, directors, and writers, but also producers. As prestige television and interconnected universes have given prominence to names like Kevin Feige, Ana Duvernay, Ryan Murphy, Greg Berlanti, and Mindy Kaling, I anticipated the show simply being a send-up of moviemaking with the producer as the hero, but it doesn’t hog the glory for one man—even though it lionizes him.

The Offer also, like everything “based on a true story,” takes artistic license with the story it’s chronicling. For instance, Ruddy’s brief stint at Warner Bros before the Rand Corporation is completely ignored, as are the two movies he worked on before The Godfather. One thing that got the mob’s attention during the making of The Godfather is that Frank Sinatra was insulted by the Johnny Fontane character, and according to the miniseries, wanted to shut the film down. Al Martino, who thought himself perfect for the role and allegedly got it after leveraging his own mob connections, is absent from The Offer.

(The show also didn’t need to provide as much perspective on Joe Colombo’s rise, the Italian-American Civil Rights League and the internecine mafia conflict known as Second Columbo War, as it did. It’s there because people who like The Godfather probably like mob stories, but it isn’t essential to understanding the relationships between the people that actually made the film.)

The series frequently cuts completely to black between scenes, which allows for clean transition and evokes The Godfather and other, older films, but can make some scenes feel tacked-on or wedged-in. The needle drops are generally good, and the instrumentals invoking Westerns and ‘70s action in addition to The Godfather give The Offer a frenetic and engaging, though not serious, tone. Still, the music can often be far too dramatic for the stakes that are being discussed, or at least the lofty words used to describe them; even the best popular movie ever made is still just a movie.

Ultimately, whether you’re a novice film buff or an accomplished critic, if you love movies then it’s likely you’ll find something relatable here in the dramatic monologues romanticizing cinema. In this telling, there’s something endearing about watching the sausage get made. It’s hard not to take those presentations with considerable salt, and yet, if you (like me) are the kind of schmuck who gets goosebumps watching other people excitedly watch The Godfather, this is for you. If you’ve got an irrational love of the very concept of filmmaking or a soft spot for longshots that feel like sure things in hindsight, this might be for you. Yet, if you’re looking for the next great prestige miniseries, The Offer probably isn’t it. Even as a fan interested in the making of the movie, in some ways it’s just here to pass the time until Francis and The Godfather.

The Offer premieres Thursday, March 21st on Paramount+.

Kevin Fox, Jr. is a freelance writer, editor, and critic. He is a former Paste intern with an MA in history, who loves videogames, film, TV, and sports, and dreams of liberation. He can be found on Twitter @kevinfoxjr.

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