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‘George & Tammy’ Review: Even George and Tammy Can Only Hold On For So Long

Michael Shannon as George Jones and Jessica Chastain as Tammy Wynette in Episode Five of "George and Tammy."
Michael Shannon as George Jones and Jessica Chastain as Tammy Wynette in Episode Five of "George and Tammy." By Courtesy of Dana Hawley/SHOWTIME
By Amelie Julicher, Crimson Staff Writer

Showtime’s “George & Tammy” is one of the many biopics currently flooding the television landscape — but it might be the best one yet. Amongst the flurry, “George & Tammy” holds its own. Beautifully paying tribute to country legends George Jones and Tammy Wynette, the limited series shines in its portrayal of human relationships, love, and tragedy with perfect vulnerability and nuance.

“George & Tammy” was written by screenwriter Abe Sylvia. The show began as a film screenplay based on the memoir “The Three of Us: Growing Up with Tammy and George,” written by Jones and Wynette’s daughter, Georgette Jones. Sylvia eventually realized the material would flourish more in a television format, as it would allow him to further delve into the complicated relationships and career developments without time constraints. In cooperation with Georgette Jones, he set out to tell the story of Jones and Wynette as people and parents and not just as country music superstars.

Georgette Jones has applauded the show for its ability to highlight her parents’ humanity beyond their artistry and creativity. The limited series format impactfully tells the story of Jones and Wynette’s career and relationship from beginning to end, highlighting both the wonderful and destructive aspects of their love and fame. As their life story unravels from their first to last meeting, every scene is heartbreakingly underscored by their own country music, perfectly shaping the narrative of their story.

The life story of Jones and Wynette is told with empathy, detail, and grace in six episodes, allowing viewers to develop a nuanced understanding of their tumultuous life while connecting with them on a deep emotional level.

Here and there, the show slightly loses structure, delving into Jones’s (Michael Shannon) background increasingly more than Wynette’s (Jessica Chastain). The miniseries also occasionally misses the opportunity to further investigate the effects of alcoholism and abuse on a partner as opposed to highlighting the violent outbursts themselves. However, “George and Tammy” does admittedly raise awareness regarding said serious issues overall.

The cinematography beautifully merges with the music arrangements in each episode, which clearly reflect on the evolving life story of the characters. A scene in which Wynette relapses is accompanied by the song “Help Me Make It Through The Night,” an on-the-nose but emotionally resonant musical choice. The directing shows contrasting themes of desperation and relief, making it one of the most painful and tragic scenes to watch on television to date. Director John Hillcoat rarely misses, yet at times the show gets dangerously close to leaning too much into the melodramatic side of musical theater. However, even these dramatic moments are underscored by a level of honesty and vulnerability that leaves the audience in awe.

The biggest asset of this Showtime special without a doubt lies in the immeasurable talent of both Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain, the latter of which won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries for her portrayal of Wynette this year. The emotional depth, vulnerability, and commitment that Chastain and Shannon bring to their roles as Wynette and Jones radiate from the screen. Their chemistry is electric and makes the show easy to fall into. The many years both actors reportedly spent researching and preparing for their role has paid off: Watching Shannon and Chastain navigate the challenging life of Jones and Wynette is a true masterclass in character acting. Worth noting is also Steve Zahn’s portrayal of Wynnette’s later husband George Richy. His characterization of the record producer and songwriter makes Richy the most disturbing villain in the show. Witnessing his progression from friend to enemy is devastatingly painful, and never fails to disturb the audience by challenging the limits of human decency.

The acting performances are only enriched by emotionally fueled renditions of the music that brought both Jones and Wynette country music fame performed by Chastain and Shannon. The two actors recorded their own vocals for the show and performed them live on set. Both actors worked extensively with Nashville vocal coach Ron Browning to successfully tackle the music, and their efforts paid off. Their versions of the classic country songs certainly bear a striking resemblance to the originals, ensuringtheir version supports the emotional journey of their characters. The connection between Wynette and Jones, as well as between the actors, is tangible when they look into each other’s eyes and sing.

“George & Tammy” is an incredibly vulnerable portrayal of two complicated, but immensely talented people. The cinematography, musicality, and, most importantly, the acting performances in the show make it a must-watch, whether one is familiar with George Jones and Tammy Wynette or not. Showtime’s miniseries is both the perfect introduction to the country music legends and the perfect love letter to George Jones and Tammy Wynette’s life work.

— Staff writer Amelie Julicher can be reached at amelie.julicher@thecrimson.com.

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