May 29, 2019

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Finale Review: “Fosse/Verdon”


FX’s FOSSE/VERDON was a triumph of narrowcasting, a showbiz hall of mirrors about a showbiz hall of mirrors.  That was never more so than in its final installment, where it met its meta-destiny by depicting Bob Fosse (Sam Rockwell) depicting a just-slightly fantasized version of his own life and death in All That Jazz.  It all reached its apex when Rockwell played Fosse directing Roy Scheider (in an additional meta-layer, played by Fosse/Verdon Executive Producer and living Broadway legend Lin-Manuel Miranda) and then, at Scheider’s invitation, performing the “Bye, Bye Life” number himself:  Rockwell as Fosse as Scheider (and Miranda) as Fosse.

Whew.  It was extraordinary that series creators Thomas Kail and Steven Levenson (respectively the director of “Hamilton” and the book writer of “Dear Evan Hansen”) were able to comb through all these levels of artifice and find beating hearts within (not to be confused with the actual beating heart Fosse included in All That Jazz).  That they did was partly attributable to their insistence on avoiding the obvious.  Each episode of Fosse/Verdon was patterned stylistically after an actual Bob Fosse work, but although previous episodes had leaned (sometimes a bit too much) on the pseudo-Felliniesque All That Jazz, this episode showed the actual filming of that film more straightforwardly, leaning into the reality of the situation, notably in a scene where Fosse hectored his actual ex-lover Ann Reinking (a superb Margaret Qualley) into providing the version of their actual shared life that he wanted in his film.

Even more, though, Fosse/Verdon was transformative due to its performers, especially its stars.  Rockwell was in every way excellent, and particularly good in the final episode as he simulated an aging dancer’s body both in a scene where he created a father and daughter dance for All That Jazz and later, delivering his promised, mournful soft-shoe at his best friend Paddy Cheyefsky’s (Norbert Leo Butz) funeral.  But no one, possibly on Earth, could touch Michelle Williams’s revelatory work as Gwen Verdon, which somehow managed to be a perfect piece of mimicry and seeming transference of Verdon’s soul.  It will be a gross injustice if she doesn’t go home with an Emmy (although the smart money seems to be aimed at Patricia Arquette in Escape At Dannemora).

Fosse/Verdon, which had the couple’s daughter Nicole Fosse (played in the final episode by Juliet Brett) as a Co-Executive Producer, portrayed the complicated relationship between Fosse and Verdon with an appreciation for its joys and horrors.  Fosse treated his marriage as a hobby, and each manipulated the other with an intimate knowledge of what buttons to push, but they also loved each other deeply and brought out the best in their shared obsession with musicals.  The writing staff refused to oversimplify the result for the sake of slogans.

The series was also marked by a level of technical accomplishment that used to be unthinkable in television.  The story, which ranged across decades, was illustrated with gorgeous sets, costumes and recreated choreography, the music was lushly orchestrated, and the make-up and hair people provided age and youth flawlessly as needed.

Fosse/Verdon didn’t score particularly well in the ratings, although one imagines that it delivered a relatively educated and affluent crowd.  Its value to FX (at least in its pre-Disney-owned incarnation) was more a matter of branding and general quality.  Fosse and Verdon, who had plenty of disappointments to go with their hits, would appreciate that sometimes a piece is worthwhile for the artistry itself.  The series about them earned its standing ovation.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."