Alibi V.26 No.4 • Jan 26-Feb 1, 2017 

Idiot Box

Flapper? I Hardly Know Her!

“Z: The Beginning of Everything” on Amazon

Viewers can be forgiven for thinking that Amazon’s new series “Z: The Beginning of Everything” is yet another post-apocalyptic zombie tale in the vein of World War Z or “Z Nation.” Instead, the online-retailer-turned-streaming-service is getting historical with what turns out to be a punchy literary biography. The Jazz Age drama is based on Therese Anne Fowler’s Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald and traces the life of Zelda Sayre, a beautiful, brilliant and unconventionally liberated Southern belle as she crosses paths with the soon-to-be-famous F. Scott Fitzgerald. The duo’s subsequent romance and eventual emergence as a celebrity power couple is followed throughout the show’s first 10-episode season, debuting this weekend.

Christina Ricci stars is the titular Z, Zelda Sayre. (The rest of the unwieldy title comes from Fitzgerald’s quote, “I love her and it is the beginning of everything.”) Most often regarded as an author, an alcoholic and arm candy to Mr. Fitzgerald, the iconic Zelda had a tumultuous life previous to her famous hook up. The story picks up circa 1918 as young Zelda is running wild through Montgomery, Ala.—much to the chagrin of her upstanding father, Judge Anthony Sayre (played with full, sour-faced piousness by David Strathairn). Her sole concerns seem to be (as the real-life Zelda once said) swimming and boys. She goes out to dances, drinks gin, smokes cigarettes and doesn’t give a fig about social conventions. Her sisters envy her, her mom indulges her and her dad frowns a lot. Ricci bites into the role with her teeth. It’s a zesty, witty outlet for the big-eyed actress—one that feels custom tailored to her. She excels at playing odd, difficult women—as her last TV gig in Lifetime’s entertainingly loopy “The Lizzie Borden Chronicles” more than demonstrated.

Zelda’s romantic partner-in-crime Mr. Fitzgerald is portrayed, at least initially, as a high-minded soldier boy selling his writing skills to fellow World War I recruits eager to send florid love letters home to their sweethearts. But in bumping into Zelda at a Jazz-filled soiree, Fitzgerald meets his equal and eventual muse. As with all Amazon shows, a pilot was shot first to gauge audience interest. In the two years it’s been sitting around, the original Fitzgerald (Gavin Stenhouse) has been quietly replaced (by David Hoflin of “Alcatraz “ and “American Crime”). The couple’s life—filled with adultery, alcohol and mental illness—provides plenty of drama. By the end of the first season, the two have run off to New York City, gotten married, tripped out to Hollywood to flirt with fame and endured their first marital tensions.

Subtle this show is not. (“My name is F. Scott Fitzgerald, and I’m going to be famous some day!” crows our would-be author by way of introduction.) In the end this glittery tabloid tale does little more than reinforce our already well-formed images of these iconic figures. But it’s got spark thanks to the fill-tilt central performance of its star and producer.

The first season of “Z: The Beginning of Everything” debuts Friday, Jan. 27, on Amazon Prime.