There’s nothing Hollywood loves more than luring in beautiful, young people with big dreams and crushing them under the heel of its Ferragamos. Much of the time, the person doing the stomping is a man and the person getting squished is a woman. We know this—and we have known it for decades—because it’s a story Hollywood keeps retelling. From the oft-retold melodrama of Peg Entwistle’s Hollywood-sign suicide and the golden-age gossip of Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon to postmodern riffs like David Lynch’s brilliant Mulholland Drive and Nicolas Winding Refn’s divisive The Neon Demon, audiences seem to have a bottomless appetite for the tale of the ingénue eaten alive by a predatory, superficial entertainment industry.
The latest regurgitation of this hoary premise is Brand New Cherry Flavor, a lurid eight-part horror series that comes to Netflix on Aug. 13. Don’t be misled by the title. Although each gore-soaked frame radiates confidence that it’s blowing our minds, the show has nothing new to say. What little it does contribute to the post-#MeToo discourse around predatory men, vulnerable women and the price of fame falls somewhere between reactionary and obvious.
Based on the 1996 novel by Todd Grimson and set in the early ‘90s, a backdrop that mostly just looks like a noirish 2021 minus the smartphones, Cherry Flavor opens with young filmmaker Lisa Nova (Rosa Salazar of Alita: Battle Angel and Undone) arriving in Los Angeles. She has been summoned there by the abrasive, powerful but somewhat washed-up producer Lou Burke (Eric Lange, recently seen in HBO’s Perry Mason reboot), on the strength of a spooky short film she made. He wants to adapt it into a feature, with Lisa as director and cuts her a $10,000 check to option it on the spot. Then—surprise, surprise—he makes a move on Lisa, she rejects him and suddenly she starts hearing about a different director attached to the project.
But Lisa is not your typical damsel in distress. (This, I think, is where the show is supposed to be breaking ground. And maybe it would have, 25 years ago.) Driven by ambition derived from her longing to meet a mother who disappeared shortly after her birth, Lisa vows to get her movie back—and to make Lou’s life miserable in the process. Soon enough, a witchy, soothingly maternal, hippie-looking woman called Boro (the great Catherine Keener) materializes out of the ether to catalyze this revenge. Can you see the “be careful what you wish for” twist coming?