THE NEW LOOK Review: Not a Good Fit

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)
THE NEW LOOK Review: Not a Good Fit

Fashionable Nazis? Nope.

The New Look
The first three episodes are now streaming on Apple TV+. New episodes will follow every Wednesday through April 3. I've seen the first three episodes but not all 10 episodes.

Your tolerance for familiar World War II stories that aim to put their historical characters in the best light forward may be sorely tested by the first three episodes of The New Look, created by Todd A. Kessler (Damages).

Like what is probably his best-known credit -- he also created Bloodline for Netflix, which I've never seen, and wrote and produced episodes for the second and third seasons of The Sopranos, which is unalloyed greatness -- The New Look feels quite chilling, even cold, as it mercilessly unfolds the story of two fashion icons, Christian Dior (Ben Mendelsohn) and Coco Chanel (Juliette Binoche).

The first three episodes take place during the German occupation of France, as the Resistance valiantly fought against overwhelming Nazi forces and people in the fashion industry ... made clothes for the Nazis (Dior) and unwittingly collaborated with the Nazis (Chanel)?

It's all more than a bit suspect, especially in the case of Chanel, since various reports I've read (only online, it's true, so who knows?) concluded that she was an active collaborator and an anti-semite. The first three episodes down-pedal her involvement and suggest that she was fooled into working with the Nazis and just wanted control of her business, which was controlled by Jewish men.

The series begins with Dior's accomplishments being trumpeted in 1955, where an enterprising young reporter raises questions during a noisy press conference about his actions during the war. We head back to the war years, where we see Dior as a very, very concerned fashion designer -- not yet the head of his own house -- who wrinkles his brow, speaks with a soft French accent, and worries about his sister, Catherine (Maisie Williams, who has a stronger French accent), a confirmed Resistance fighter with a steely, determined face.

We know she will never buckle during interrogation. Her brother, we're not so sure. Ben Mendelsohn plays Christian Dior as an insecure fellow who will do anything to help his sister, even if must design clothing for those darn Nazis and make money so he can support the family.

Juliette Binoche, who is so appealing (as usual) in the recently-opened The Taste of Things, inspires fear and loathing as Coco Chanel, an unlikable character who is in a wary sort of relationship with the suspicious German civilian Hans Von Dinklage (Claes Bang), who then tricks her -- he's a sneaky fellow, apparently -- into doing things that make her appear to be a Nazi collaborator. Unless she really was a Nazi collaborator?

I suspect I would need to read much more to learn all there is to know about Coco Chanel and Christian Dior.

Creator Todd A. Kessler, who wrote and directed the first two episodes, shoots much of the first episode with a tremendous amount of ground-view footage, for reasons that were not immediately apparent to me, before bringing the camera up to more normalized perspectives in the second episode. Helen Shaver directs the third episode, which is the best of the three I watched.

Now, to be fair, Apple TV+ made all 10 episodes available in advance for members of the press, but three episodes was all I could take in one sitting. Without an abiding interest in the unremarkable history of Dior and Chanel, and without much else generated of interest from the other characters, I was left to ponder why Ben Mendelsohn and Maisie Williams were needed to play notable French characters? (Zey werk hawd on zeir azzents, mon ami, but c'mon.)

Together, they make a poor counterpart to Juliette Binoche, who is magnificent, even playing an overbearing and repulsive character (as depicted here). Viewers with a greater curiosity than me about the fashion business and its notable figures during those years, including Lucien LeLong (John Malkovich) and Elsa Lombardi (Emily Mortimer), may find much to feast upon. And it may that the series will round out the characters and get better as it goes, if you're the optimistic sort.

Others, like me, may simply bid the show adieu.

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Apple TV+Ben MendelsohnClaes BangEmily MortimerJohn MalkovichJuliette BinocheMaisie WilliamsTodd A Kessler

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