“The Loudest Voice” could have gone all in on the sexual abuse allegations against Fox News founder Roger Ailes.
That’s clearly not the point of the seven-part miniseries, starting 10 p.m. June 30 on Showtime.
At least not at first.
Yes, Ailes’ alleged abuses, detailed by a number of former Fox News employees, are clearly shown in the saga. (NOTE: This reporter received the first three episodes of the series). Still, the initial hard focus is on the creation of Fox News and, more importantly, how it changed TV journalism for the worse.
That makes it impossible to avoid some good, old fashioned WhatAboutIsm.
The miniseries clutches its pearls over Fox News’ connection to the Bush White House. The network is clearly a partisan outfit, we’re told over and again. Ailes built it with his bare hands to battle progressives.
Once upon a time that might be scandalous. Now?
CNN and MSNBC parrot the Democrats’ talking points so seamlessly it’s hard to know where their reporting starts and the DNC press releases end.
Liberal comedians visit with liberal presidents — in secret — and their every yuk gets massive media coverage. And, of course, today’s mainstream media is so cartoonishly biased the fact that one major network -- ONE -- leans right hardly seems like a scandal.
In short, spare the faux outrage, please.
Fox News’ biggest sin, to its liberal detractors, is giving half the country a voice. Are we really supposed to be offended when Ailes glibly compares President Barack Obama to Hitler in “The Loudest Voice” … after hearing major news networks do the same to President Donald Trump?
Beyond that essential context, “The Loudest Voice” is never dull, even if it becomes more formulaic as the chapters wear on.
Russell Crowe is Roger Ailes, a man with a vision for a channel that counters the media’s leftward tilt. The budding Fox News will offer more than just media balance. Ailes wants compulsively watchable TV, even if it means leaving bedrock reporting behind.
He predicted the future of television and helped make it happen.
He’s also a monster, as portrayed by Crowe under mounds of prosthetic bulk. Ailes can be charming, even sweet, one moment and then eviscerate an employee the next. His rages are as legendary as his appetite for control.
It’s the latter that proves his true obsession, above and beyond his conservative zeal. He demands full control from his boss, a pragmatic Rupert Murdoch (Simon McBurney under equally impressive makeup).
Russell Crowe spent up to six hours a day transforming into late Fox News chief Roger Ailes for Showtime’s new series, The Loudest Voice. https://t.co/wAHREau01a
— Entertainment Tonight (@etnow) June 29, 2019
The first episode is the most intriguing. Ailes is crafting his network from scratch, but nothing seems to be going right. The behind-the-scenes view captivates, as does the way Ailes bullies everyone to make Fox News a reality.
Episode Two focuses on September 11, and how Ailes maneuvered Fox News to parrot the Bush administration’s talking points. Given the hard-left bent of the “Loudest Voice” team -- it’s from Blumhouse Productions, an overtly liberal shop, it’s hard to trust every element of the story.
Some moments, like a Fox Host wondering if the Obamas engaged in a “terrorist fist bump,” are both accurate and embarrassing. Left unsaid: the anchor who used the phrase lost her gig as a result.
The miniseries quickly falls into a pattern by episode three.
Ailes’ spouse, played by Sienna Miller, is a one-dimensional trophy wife who digs using her last name as a cudgel. Ailes relieves his stress by sexually dehumanizing Fox News booker Laurie Luhn (Annabelle Wallis, given little to do save play victim). Those scenes are brutal to watch, although more restraint would have been equally effective.
And heaven help anyone who crosses Ailes’ path.
The production packs a small screen feel at a time when televised fare outstrips big screen productions. The miniseries looks sharp, with strong production design and first-rate performances. Still, the emotional beats are all obvious, with little left for audiences to decipher for themselves.
The heroes and villains might as well wear white and black cowboy hats.
To its credit, “The Loudest Voice” isn’t as absurdly one-sided as “Vice,” the Dick Cheney hit piece from last year. Ailes’ tender side gets frequent close ups, including a depressing anecdote he shares from his childhood.
Still, the Mr. Hyde version gets far more screen time, including when he tosses of a racist taunt minutes before meeting Barack Obama. Crowe mesmerizes from start to finish, and the eventual award nominations will be well earned.
Episode Three ends with Ailes making a speech in his hometown, capped by a promise to “Make America Great Again.” It’s a depressing reminder how easily Hollywood scribes will take you out of a movie or TV project just to summon President Donald Trump.
Seth Macfarlane, an avowed Fox News critic, gets precious little to do in the first two episodes save some reaction shots. By Episode three his character is harassing a colleague for some embarrassing leaks.
The role is beneath Macfarlane, but he’s in it for the big picture. Much like Showtime.
“The Loudest Voice” may swerve directly into Ailes’ alleged abuses. We’re just introduced to Gretchen Carlson (Naomi Watts) as the third episode wraps. Still, Hollywood didn’t go all in on not one but two Ailes projects to obsess over his sexual gluttony.
We’re still waiting for dueling projects about Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose and Les Moonves. Here’s guessing we’ll keep on waiting, too.