New Written Review from Mike Crowley on You’ll Probably Agree: ‘Ratched’ Is For The Birds

I don’t know where to begin. Do I point out how this is an insult to the source material? Do I state that this is a shameless ripoff of “Psycho?” Ryan Murphy can’t get out of his awkward high school goth phase as a creator, where he thinks that exploring the taboo is shocking. It’s not; it’s comedically obnoxious. Somewhere in heaven, Ken Kesey has stopped his bickering at Miloš Forman over his treatment of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.” While the two men latch onto one another during one of their weekly physical encounters, the looming shadow of “Ratched” emerges from the clouds like a burning Hindenberg with mountains of glitter pouring out of the vessel. Taking his hands off Miloš, Ken turns towards his decades-long rival; at last, he utters the words, “I think I like your movie now.”

Encountering the first few minutes of “Ratched,” I asked myself in disbelief if I was watching a parody. Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan didn’t respect the source material. If they did, then they sure fooled me. If trying to take a character in a property utterly devoid of its ubiquitous source, why go this direction? Even detaching myself from my love of “Cuckoo’s Nest,” the show is still utterly unwatchable. Jumping from one cheap gory scene to the next “Ratched” is a calamity of chaos with no clear direction other than shock. There’s a message in “Ratched” that gets suffocated in its absurdity regarding how sam sex relationships and physical deformities were improperly viewed during 1947. Such meaningful material is examined with the subtlety you’d find during a session of electroshock therapy. Nothing significant is explored in these areas, just merely abused to benefit a tacky house of horrors script.

The one potential I could see in making a show about the most hated nurse in cinematic history was an account that might humanize her. Although outwardly monstrous upon first impressions when viewing Ms. Ratched in “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” Louise Fletcher’s performance was mesmerizing. What hypnotized us wasn’t her dreadfulness; it was her ambiguity. The audience could be split if Mildred Ratched was truly cold-hearted or righteous in her intentions. That sort of mysticism made our hatred for that character so alluring. In the book, Mildred is just plain evil, but that works for the page. We don’t know if she was a decent person before discovering her at the mental hospital from Ken Kesey’s book or Milos Forman’s movie. So how does this prequel treat her?

In this show, Ms. Ratched is insufferably cruel from the very start, making her no more layered than a Dick Tracey villain. When we discover why she is the way she is, it’s more of an afterthought from Ryan Murphy’s box full of cheap horrors than a meticulously plotted character study. That’s odd, considering this is supposed to be the origin of one of the most iconic villains of all time. What’s the point of an origin story if the character is essentially the same person from beginning to end? Sarah Paulson does an admirable job taking on such an iconic role with her sense of menace and vulnerability. More than halfway through the show, when we discover the meaning behind the nurse’s nihilism, it was too late for me to care. None of which is Ms. Pulson’s fault. 

She does precisely what the script demands of her. Considering that she’s one of the Executive Producers on the show, you’d think she’d recommend some more nuance with her character. When given refinement, Mildred’s backstory is overbearingly cliched with traumatic flashbacks that hardly qualify as writing a fully rounded character—watching Mildred having multiple weepy scenes when before she was as calm as calm can be felt out of character. The writers don’t know if they want us to hate Ms. Ratched or feel sorry for her as it bounces from one vast emotion to the next. 

Joining Ms. Paulson’s over the top persona is a cast of characters that could have been picked from an R rated Tim Burton circus. You have your nymphomaniac junior nurse, your older vengeful nurse, your emotionally insecure doctor, and your corrupt governor. Each scene is compiled with characters frothing at the mouth in moments of excessive rage as if their single direction given by the showrunner was “SCREAM LOUDER!” 

Amongst the shoutfest, I sympathized with Dr. Richard Hanover (Jon Jon Briones) JJB brings a comedic sense of fun and some humanity to one of the few players that’s not a genuine scumbag. To compliment Jon Jon Brione’s performance is Charlie Carver’s Huck, a physically deformed World War II vet turned nurse whose actually believable in this world. My goodness, there’s someone I emotionally latched onto? Thank God. But of course, right as I’m getting invested in his character, the story moves in an entirely different direction.

Although Ken Kesey despised Miloš Forman’s adaptation of his novel, both pieces of material were grounded in reality. They dually were a timeless commentary on the lack of proper mental healthcare in American society. “Ratched” is an exploitation of mental health so the showrunner can make his version of Alfred Hitchcock meets “Friday The 13th.” It’s neither meaningful, nor scary. As a fan of “Cuckoo’s Nest,” I don’t see why in a million years you’d make a show like this based on that material. Does the character of Nurse Ratched really sell in 2020? 

Perhaps if you’re a fan of “American Horror Story,” you’ll love “Ratched.” With the freedom Ryan Murphy has with Netflix, he’s unrestrained by censorship, which is entirely a curse. If you’re looking for a fun crazy gorefest terror show, maybe this will be up your alley. It just didn’t quite work for me, which is a shame because there are so many incredible movies and TV shows that Netflix offers. I’m just saddened that a show that isn’t on Netflix’s good list had to damage one of the movies I hold dearest to my heart. 

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