tv review

The Offer’s Exhausting Self-Congratulation Makes The Godfather Into Gabagool

Photo: Nicole Wilder/Paramount+

There is an episode of The Office in which Michael Scott — influenced by The Godfather film series and The Sopranos, and at his core, an idiot — tries to order “gabagool” at an Italian restaurant without actually knowing what it is (capicola). Scott’s facile understanding of Italian culture, and his desire to seem smart and sophisticated while in reality being foolish and delusional, is a typical moment for the character, and if that scene were extended into an overly long miniseries, it might look like the self-congratulatory The Offer.

Based on the experiences of The Godfather producer Albert S. Ruddy, who, according to this Paramount+ miniseries, liaised with New York City’s mobsters to get the film made and (of course) got in deeper than he expected, The Offer primarily inhabits the “Who is this for?” space. There is allegedly gossip here, but The Offer’s book-report-like approach to explaining what The Godfather is really about (family, food, the American dream) is repetitive for anyone who’s seen the film, and condescendingly didactic for those who haven’t. Its depiction of the personal lives of studio executives takes up a patience-testing amount of time but leaves out the juicy stuff (an ex-wife who becomes a cult member, drug convictions, bankruptcy), and the writing and direction lack a guiding sense of what this series is meant to say about The Godfather, about Paramount Pictures, or about moviemaking in general within these ten episodes, the first three of which premiere April 28.

At its worst, the project is an incurious bit of mid-century nostalgia bait, regurgitating the past rather than analyzing it. The Offer seems to think it can hold audiences’ attention for hour after hour by showing them characters whose names they recognize also doing things they recognize, like Marlon Brando putting cotton balls in his mouth to puff up Vito Corleone’s jaw, or Ali MacGraw cheating on Paramount vice-president Robert Evans with movie star Steve McQueen, or Frank Sinatra losing his shit at Godfather author Mario Puzo in a restaurant. How did Brando’s intuitively gonzo style of acting stick out in a changing Hollywood? Was the sexuality of Hollywood starlets pushing the boundaries of what was considered “acceptable” by mainstream audiences? If Sinatra were really such an asshole, what level of work went into maintaining his suave public image? The Offer doesn’t dare wander into all that; it just wants you to hear names like Brando, McQueen, and Sinatra, nod in acknowledgment, and consider that entertainment.

This skimpiness regarding other subplots might be tenable if The Offer were otherwise committed to re-creating The Godfather in detail, but there are no scenes shown in full from the multi-Oscar-winning 1972 film. Instead, it’s all plodding monologues from Dan Fogler’s Francis Ford Coppola about the importance of certain themes (how The Godfather is actually “about family” comes up roughly once an episode), and Miles Teller’s Ruddy grimly swearing that he’ll find more money somehow. We see characters on set reacting during the filming of Sonny’s assault of wife-beating brother-in-law Carlo and Michael’s assassination of the Turk and Captain McCluskey, and we see characters in screening rooms reacting to early cuts of the complete movie, and we see characters at an Oscars after-party reacting to Marlon Brando sending Sacheen Littlefeather to accept his Best Actor award. But all of those scenes only go one way; there’s no rhythm of give-and-take.

Most confusing is how the series repurposes elements from The Godfather, and similar to its use of Brando, MacGraw, and Sinatra, seemingly only as a means of reminding us what we’re watching. Dialogue like “Leave the fucking cannoli” and “I’m gonna make you an offer, take it or leave it,” and a scene where a bowl of rolls spills onto the ground during an assassination scene, à la the film’s iconic oranges, stick out awkwardly. If this were meta experimentation, these scenes might have been intriguing, but here they’re more like a copy of a copy. It’s a curious bit of tiptoeing that makes The Offer feel untethered from the actual work it’s discussing, and often dispiritingly hollow despite some solid performances from Juno Temple, Matthew Goode, Burn Gorman, and Jake Cannavale, who manage to wring charm out of the series’ gruelingly simplistic script.

Photo: Nicole Wilder/Paramount+

The Offer is primarily told through three characters whose arcs crisscross to imbalanced effectiveness. First up is New York City mobster Joe Colombo (Giovanni Ribisi, doing the wackiest accent in a miniseries overpopulated with wacky accents), who despises Puzo’s best-selling The Godfather for portraying organized crime in a negative way — and for exposing its inner workings in the first place. In an attempt to reclaim Italians’ public image, he creates the Italian American Civil Rights League, a move that draws media attention (which doesn’t please the other heads of New York’s Five Families). Across the country in California, Albert S. Ruddy leaves behind a programming job for the RAND Corporation to make a go of it in show business. (Teller, stepping in for Armie Hammer, is at his naturalistic best in the few moments Ruddy is allowed to be a calculating asshole.) When Ruddy gets a job at Paramount Pictures, he’s placed somewhat under the wing of the smooth-talking, fast-drinking Robert Evans (Goode), whose once-secure hold over the studio is being questioned.

As Ruddy develops The Godfather, his project becomes the connective tissue between these worlds. He brings together author Puzo (Patrick Gallo), whose sole character trait is his constant snacking, with director Coppola, who passionately advocates for the casting of then-unknown actor Al Pacino (played by Anthony Ippolito with a perpetual brood and at a constant whisper). That’s only one of many issues over which Ruddy, his resourceful, well-connected assistant Bettye (Temple, vivacious enough to sell arduous lines like “I’m divorced, opinionated, the latter most likely the cause of the former”), and The Godfather team butt heads with Evans. Meanwhile, Evans is also sparring with rival Barry Lapidus (a fictional character played by Colin Hanks with a perpetual frown), who urges Charles Bluhdorn (Gorman), president of Gulf and Western Industries, to sell Paramount once Ruddy and Colombo enter a partnership to get The Godfather made with the Mafia’s blessing. And as Ruddy gets pulled further into Colombo’s world, he realizes the truth in the well-intentioned warning he received from Colombo’s second-in-command Caesar (Cannavale): “When you come to a line with us, you don’t cross.”

Is there enough here to populate a tight miniseries told in six parts rather than ten? Sure! Temple is a joy in every scene, in particular during her tête-à-têtes with Gorman’s flirtatious, tempestuous Bluhdorn and on-set chats with Cannavale’s adoring, violent-to-protect-his-family Caesar. Goode, with his unkempt hair, gigantic glasses, and smug line deliveries, is going very broad with his version of Evans, but the series doesn’t treat him with mockery, consistently centering Evans in the frame to make it clear that he is always the most important person in the room. I genuinely laughed at the moment when Puzo accuses Coppola of eating a ham sandwich he had saved in the fridge, only to be deflated when the exasperated Coppola reminds Puzo that he already ate it. And although Ribisi’s performance skews awfully close to caricature, it at least has more depth than Joseph Russo as the one-note “Crazy Joe” Gallo, whose villainy is so telegraphed that it fails to be a surprise.

But these acceptable-to-fine performances are severely constrained and undermined by The Offer’s glacial pacing, which is bogged down by too much Mafia stuff in the first half and otherwise vague and flat writing (I could not tell you how much time passes over the course of the miniseries), which saps all ambiguity and chemistry out of The Godfather. Consider how Puzo describes his novel to his wife: “The oldest son is a hothead. The middle son is sweet, but he’s weak. And the younger son is a war hero who wants nothing to do with the family business, but the Don wants this son — call him Michael — wants him to rise above the family business and become a senator, someone powerful. Michael’s destiny won’t let him escape the power of Don Vito Corleone.” Or Coppola’s assertion that “it’s a commentary about how greed will often lead to murder under the guise of business.” Those descriptions aren’t wrong, but they are an incredibly bland framework for considering the greatest American movie ever made, and they add to the sense that The Offer is continuously justifying itself.

The repetitive dialogue, like how The Godfather is referred to over and over again as “some gangster movie.” How characters reveal their motivations through formulaic exchanges peppered with variations of “you know.” The omnipresence of the Paramount mountain logo, glimpsed nearly a dozen times in the opening credits alone. All of this is padding around the amusingly campy stuff in The Offer, and the recipe isn’t right — as if Clemenza forgot the splash of wine and pinch of sugar in his pasta sauce. Perhaps the most unintentionally iconic moment of The Offer is when Ruddy says of television, “TV is too limiting. You can’t tell real stories on TV. It’s fake.” But it’s The Offer’s methods that define its shortcomings, not its medium.

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The Self-Congratulatory The Offer Underserves The Godfather