How do you make a series about the making of one of the greatest films ever made? The Godfather is a seminal movie in Hollywood history, one rich with storytelling possibilities and a cast of well-known actors, directors, and a menagerie of producers, cinematographers, and assorted crew members and studio flunkies. Do you focus on the filmmakers themselves, with director Francis Ford Coppola and screenwriter Mario Puzo as the chief architects of the enterprise? Or do you zero in on executives like Robert Evans calling the shots from the swanky Paramount Pictures lot? Or do you draw out the real-life mafia connections the Corleone family were modeled after and somehow incorporate them into the story, making the series itself a re-telling of the rise and fall of the mob?
That’s the dilemma that The Offer tackles and never really solves, as it wants to have its cannoli and eat it too. The series, now streaming its first three episodes on Paramount+, is a bloated, haphazard affair that somehow leaves you wanting more. At times looking both expensive and cheap, the show has the dubious feat of making The Godfather seem pedestrian and uninteresting. It’s less concerned about how Coppola pulled off making his classic film and more interested in glorifying Albert S. Ruddy, the film’s producer and de facto main character who wants to be a hip Don Draper, but is really a Harry Crane with a cheaper suit and a thick New Yawk accent.
To be fair to The Offer, it does warn us early that the show is “based on Albert S. Ruddy’s experience of making The Godfather.” Maybe that explains why the series starts, stays, and ends with Ruddy (Miles Teller, giving a very Miles Teller-like performance that is both proficient and disappointing), and pushes everyone else to the background as it idolizes its central lead while also straining to weave three separate narratives (the film’s production, the studio shenanigans at Paramount, and the mob story) into one cohesive story. In the first three episodes, creator and co-writer Michael Tolkin (who wrote the much better The Player) uses Ruddy to introduce us to both the Paramount Pictures world, where he quickly scores a production deal and is tasked to bring Puzo’s best-selling novel The Godfather to life, and the mob world, which doesn’t much care for the negative depiction of the mafia in the novel to make it to the big screen.
Paired with his ever-present (and ever-perky) assistant Bettye McCartt (Juno Temple, getting by with a wink), Ruddy assembles what would become the core creative team for The Godfather: Coppola (Dan Fogler), then a neophyte indie director; Al Pacino (Anthony Ippolito, who can win a game of Charades with his impression), an up-and-coming actor no one but Coppola wants; and Marlon Brando (Justin Chambers, surprisingly good in an underplayed performance), who instantly connects with the role of the Don.
When The Offer sticks to the making of The Godfather, the series is enjoyable. There’s fun to be had in seeing how this movie was made, and the sweat and tears that went into pulling off making Puzo’s potboiler novel into a richly textured movie about the changing identity of an American immigrant family. Film buffs will get a kick out of seeing such figures as Gordon Willis tinker with the lighting or James Caan campaign for the role of Michael Corleone.
Even the scenes at Paramount, both on the lot and in the parent company’s corporate headquarters, have a fun, fly-on-the-wall quality, even if you never quite believe what you’re seeing is real. As Charles Bludhorn, the head of Gulf + Western, Burn Gorman has fun portraying the larger-than-life figure, whose Austrian accent is fit for a Bond villain rather than a CEO. His scenes with Temple’s Bettye are a particular highlight as the two bond over their shared devotion to their work.
It’s when the series forces the mob narrative, led by Giovanni Ribisi’s Dick Tracy Big Boy-like gangster Joe Colombo, that the show stumbles. While no doubt a factor in how The Godfather was received by the Italian-American community, the mob scenes in The Offer feel way too derivative and clumsy to be believable. It just doesn’t mesh with Coppola’s struggles for Pacino to be accepted by the Paramount brass or Evans’ marital problems with then-wife Ali MacGraw.
What’s truly unforgivable about The Offer is reducing most of its creative team (you know, the people who actually made the film) to cartoon characters with sitcom personalities. Fogler’s Coppola is a caricature of a film director: Socially awkward, heavyset, and neurotic. It makes you wonder how this guy made it out of bed every morning, let alone directed a big-budget Hollywood movie. Patrick Gallo’s Puzo fares no better, reduced to acting like a buffoon and eating pasta and donuts any chance he can get. Matthew Goode acts through his nose as Robert Evans, nailing the nasal delivery so perfectly he seems to have forgotten to bring anything else to the role. And as Ruddy, Teller displays all the charm of a used car salesman during happy hour at a cheap bar in Staten Island. The way The Offer tells it, The Godfather is Ruddy’s achievement; everyone else was along for the ride.
It’s hard to believe that this guy had the brains or chutzpah to have produced The Godfather, or anyone involved to have created anything that has had a long-lasting legacy as the film has had for 50 years. What The Offer has done is the reverse of what it set out to do; instead of showing just how special it was to make The Godfather, it instead diminishes it so that it’s just another picture that came together because Paramount needed another hit after Love Story. That might be part of the story, but it’s not the whole story, and The Offer ultimately fails to capture what everybody already knows about The Godfather: It was a one-of-a-kind film that was made by people who had the intelligence and passion to bring it to life. Wouldn’t it have been great if the show had just been about that?
The Offer‘s first three episodes are available to stream exclusively on Paramount+. Each additional episode will release every Thursday.