‘Ratched’: Grade A Camp

(Above: Sarah Paulson as Mildred Ratched. Source: YouTube video)

(Editor’s note: Since it’s debut a month ago, ‘Ratched‘ has become Netflix’s most-watched new series of the year. Contributor Charlie Greenberg recently joined those 49 million other ‘Ratched’ fans, and here explains what all the fuss is about.)

By the third episode of Ratched, it is clear that the highly manipulative title character has assumed control of a psychiatric hospital, where less-than-efficacious medical procedures are administered to trusting, if in some cases, hopelessly mentally impaired patients. 

That premise, by the way, is about all that the Netflix series, developed by Ryan Murphy, shares with Milos Forman’s 1975 cinema classic, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest [also available on Netflix]. Ratched, unlike its realistically sinister movie inspiration, is fun, super-campy, and oft times, utterly ridiculous. Murphy’s work here has more in common with another of his Netflix series, Hollywood.

Both are set in 1947, sharing a cheery, super-colorized palette that is splashed everywhere — the walls, the décor, the splendiferous automobiles. Hollywood, of course, imagines a gaudy Tinseltown of yore. And Rachet, a very trippy Northern California mental hospital.

Like Hollywood, feel-good, if unearned, social revisionism is front and center. And the anachronisms? Perhaps I should just take a glass of warm milk, go to bed, and get over it already.

Unlike Hollywood, Ratched can be quite the gruesome B-grade horror film, but with an A-grade budget and star-power most midnight movies could only dream of.

In episode one, Nurse Mildred Ratched (the game and wonderful Sarah Paulson) seeks employment at Saint Lucia State Hospital. Why? We don’t know for sure, but it probably has something to do with the horrendously bloody revenge killing of four priests executed by Edmund Tolleson (Finn Wittrock). He’s now a patient at Saint Lucia.

Sarah Paulson and Judy Davis in Ratched
(Above: Nurse Ratched (Paulson) squares off with Nurse Bucket (Judy Davis). Source: YouTube video)

During a nightly storm, Nurse Ratched takes a room at a downtrodden, Norman Bates-like motel, situated on a windy road directly above a jagged precipice overlooking the ocean. Lest we don’t get the point, there’s a healthy dosage of Bernard Hermann’s music borrowed from Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Psycho.

She persuades Saint Lucia’s chief of psychiatry and head surgeon (no pun intended) to bring her on staff. A very short, Peter Lorre-esque  gentlemen , Dr. Richard Hanover (Jon Jon Briones), is in truth Dr. Manuel Bañaga from the Philippines.

But Dr. Hanover’s name is not his most suspicious credential. The cutting-edge physician never met a cranial surgery he didn’t like. He regularly employs the procedure as a cure-all for such conditions as depression, memory loss, daydreaming and lesbianism.

(Source: YouTube video)

None of it works (but don’t tell that to the empirically blind). The Hanover method drives a female depressive into the arms of another lesbian patient.

Nurse Ratched is a closeted lesbian. Less closeted, but still guarded, is her soon-to-be lover, Gwendolyn Briggs (Cynthia Nixon), Governor Willburn’s (Vincent D’Onofrio) press secretary.

Having met Mildred Ratched, Gwendolyn decides to abandon her socially conventional and loveless sham of a marriage to a gay African American man. (Who knew 1947 was so progressive?)

Not progressive is the disgustingly misogynist Governor Wilburn. Wilburn pulls one political stunt by interrupting a death-row inmate’s execution by lethal injection so he can demonstrate the wonders of Old Sparky. Never mind that the first lethal injection didn’t take place until 1982. (There I go again. I’m getting my warm milk).

Despite some overbearing and contrived theatrics, kudos to Ratched for casting some of our favorite sexagenarian actresses, including Judy Davis, Sharon Stone, Amanda Plummer and Rosanna Arquette.

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About Charlie Greenberg

Charlie Greenberg is a NY-based theater and instrumental composer.

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