Naomi Watts Saves the New Netflix Drama, ‘Gypsy’

·Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
Naomi Watts in <em>Gypsy.</em> (Photo: Netflix)
Naomi Watts in Gypsy. (Photo: Netflix)

A murky melodrama with stilted dialogue, Gypsy — a new 10-episode series that begins streaming on Netflix on Friday — turns out to be a lot more watchable than I thought after I plowed through its first, portentous episode. Much of the credit for Gypsy’s low-level allure must go to star Naomi Watts, who continues her current run of excellent TV performances. She’s wonderful playing a crabby wife to Kyle MacLachlan in Twin Peaks, and she’s excellent playing a dissatisfied therapist, wife, mother, and seducer in Gypsy.

Created and written by Lisa Rubin, Gypsy is the story of Jean Holloway (Watts), a Connecticut psychotherapist married to a loving husband, played by Billy Crudup, and mother to a sweet 8-year-old child. Jean is unhappy in a vague way, dissatisfied with her comfortable life — mostly, it would seem, because that life is so comfortable. Jean finds herself drawn to Sydney (Sophie Cookson), a barista in her local coffee shop who’s also a musician. On a whim, Jean introduces herself to Sydney by a different name — Diane — and Jean/Diane begins an illicit flirtation that gives the therapist the thrill she’s been wanting, needing.

The first episode of Gypsy is a tough slog, what with a dallying pace and Jean making silly voice-over pronouncements such as, “There is one force more powerful than free will: our unconscious!” But as I hung in, the series began to organize itself around Watts’s performance. No matter how florid her dialogue can sometimes be, she doesn’t allow Jean to become maudlin or self-indulgent. The scenes between Watts and Crudup have a crisp snap to them, while the Jean-and-Sydney moments are allowed some slow-burn sexiness. (If the title puts you in mind of the Stevie Nicks/Fleetwood Mac song, the producers were thinking the same thing: Nicks has recorded a new version of her tune for use as the series’ theme music.)

Initial reviews of Gypsy have been mostly negative, and I think some of that may be due to the first-world-problems nature of Jean’s unhappiness. Simply grant Rubin’s notion that, yes, even well-to-do people can be unhappy for justifiable reasons, and allow yourself to be taken in by Watts’s wily strategy, and Gypsy may, at its best, be viewed as an interesting character study.

Gypsy is streaming now on Netflix.

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