With so much TV around, when a show like Gypsy gets a critical kicking, you tend to think it’s not going to be much good. Ha! What do critics know! This show is my new obsession right now. Dropping on Netflix on 30th June 2017, this 10 part drama starring Naomi Watts had a strange pedigree. Yes, Watts is the main draw, plus Sam Taylor-Johnson is an exec producer and directed the first two episodes. However the show is created and mostly written by a total newcomer, Lisa Rubin.
Watts is Jean, a 40 something psycho-therapist with a seemingly ideal life. Handsome husband Michael (Billy Crudup), good job, nice house, cute daughter. However it soon becomes apparent she takes a more than professional interest in her patients, and before the first episode is over, she becomes involved with the ex-girlfriend of one of her patients, Sidney played by Sophie Cookson. For many critics, Jean’s choice of whether to dive into risky behaviour in contrast to her regular life was too slow and ponderous. It isn’t fast paced enough to really be a thriller. The sultry, sexy atmosphere promises much steaminess but it really is pretty tame. Jean is no Walter White or Don Draper – she doesn’t kill people or wreck lives…. or does she?
I enjoyed the show on first viewing, although I was a little puzzled and was waiting for more dramatics from the plot. I’m an unabashed Naomi Watts fan, so staring at her for 10 hours was no hardship. However, it was on rewatching the series that I really started to become a fan. I think I’ve cracked the show! There are hidden depths and double meanings everywhere, and little hints about what Jean is hiding and who she really is.
In the pivotal 7th episode – spoiler alert – where Jean finally sleeps with Sidney, almost as enlightening is a conversation Michael has with is overly flirtatious assistant Alexis about his marriage to Jean. She is the free spirit, the wild thing, the gypsy of the title. He is the thing that grounds her. She was this ethereal spirit he fell for and that has been there all along. The conventional wife and mother is the act for her, the facade that is starting to crumble over the course of the show.
Jean’s patients are manifestations of the issues she is dealing with. Sam’s girlfriend Sidney catches her attention when he describes her vibrancy and vivacity. Jean is reminded that she was like that before she became this Stepford wife square. Indeed, her entire attraction to Sidney could be read as an attraction to herself – to her previous flighty but full of life younger self. It is fascinating to focus on what Jean says to Sidney and how it could be about Jean herself. Early on, Sidney grabs Jean’s phone, almost discovering her lies about her daughter. “You don’t care about anyone but yourself. Anyone who crosses your path ends up a fucking casualty.” she snaps at Sidney. Yes Jean, that is you! Even in the pilot episode, Jean buys the same perfume as Sidney, leading her to say ” You smell like me, you remind me of me.”
If Sidney is a manifestation of Jean herself, her other patients also have analogies to her life. The ridiculously overbearing mother Claire played by Brenda Vaccaro – Jean’s relationship to her own mother, Blythe Danner, is fractious although we aren’t quite sure why. Maybe Sidney’s stories about her absent father also mirror Jean’s daddy issues? Finally, her screwed up addict patient Alison who lies and takes advantage of Jean’s generosity when she lets her use her secret apartment. Jean is also an addict – we see her popping pills and knocking back the bourbon quite frequently.
Then there are the contemptuous words Jean has for the other school mothers who make comments about her daughter Dolly’s tomboyish ways. Jean is part of this world, one of these women but clearly not satisfied with those values.
I’m actually on a third watch right now, and more interesting and intriguing ideas are popping up all the time. Jean is a deliciously complex and fascinating character and I can’t remember a show that improved as much with repeat viewings!
Yes there are flaws. Sophie Cookson isn’t QUITE fascinating and charismatic enough to believe Watts would be quite so smitten. The stuff with Michael’s assistant was a bit cliche ridden, there are many things that make no sense – how did Jean keep that apartment for 8 years and presumably play rent without her husband noticing? It’s not been lying empty so how often has she played the journalist Diana and popped in there?
Ignore those mostly male critics, Gypsy is sexy, thought provoking and unpredictable. Plus come on, Naomi Watts!