TV Critic’s Corner

Let’s praise the ‘Feud’: FX series entertains, thanks (mostly) to Jessica Lange

Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford in the FX series “Feud: Bette and Joan.” Kurt Iswarienko/FX/KURT ISWARIENKO

Team Lange. To the death.

I’m noticing a split in opinion regarding “Feud: Bette and Joan.” The entertaining FX series is about the struggles between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford on the set of “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” — struggles often sparked and fueled by publicists and studio honchos who liked the “catfight” press attention.

Some viewers tell me Susan Sarandon captures the essence of Bette Davis, that she has just the precise amount of snark, that she delivers both the tough-broad exterior and the more compassionate heart, that she has the exact right eyes for the part. What can I say? I don’t see it — except for the eyes. Sarandon doesn’t detract from the series, but I don’t feel as though she has found her Bette Davis. She seems to be playing herself, with a few strange pronunciations to affect the way Davis spoke.

Lange, on the other hand, seems possessed by Joan Crawford. She seems to be in the acting zone in a big way, delivering to us a creature whose every look and word is the result of deep insecurity. The raging vanity, the competition, the drama-queenliness — Lange makes them all a function of Crawford’s bottomless hunger for approval. Lange is riveting and, at times, hard to watch. According to show creator Ryan Murphy, the actresses “could not have loved each other more,” and I believe him; so many of the warring-costars stories we read are fraudulent, invented to stoke interest in the project. But that makes Lange’s intensity in revealing Crawford’s animosity toward Davis even more of an actor’s coup.

When the Emmys come around next fall, I’m assuming both actresses will be nominated. And I’m throwing my support behind Lange. And this has nothing to do with Sarandon’s political rantings of late, as a few letter-writers have suggested. Her comments about the election have absolutely nothing to do with her performance in “Feud.”

Lange is having a remarkable TV career, after her decades of movie work, with “American Horror Story,” “Grey Gardens,” “Horace and Pete,” and, now, best of all, “Feud.”

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.

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