Amazon’s new series about Zelda Sayre – who later becomes Zelda Fitzgerald, wife and muse of writer F. Scott Fitzgerald – begins with Zelda offering this line: “Things are sweeter when they’re lost.”
Such romantic melancholy haunts “Z: The Beginning of Everything,” a convincing biography, premiering Jan. 27, that was adapted by Nicole Yorkin and Dawn Prestwich (“The Killing”) from Therese Anne Fowler’s 2013 novel. That comes in part because much of the outline of this doomed love story is well known. But it’s also because of the show’s careful plotting (at least in the three episodes we watched), which lays the foundation for subsequent drama.
Opening in 1918 in Montgomery, Ala., the first episode introduces Zelda (Christina Ricci) as a fiercely intelligent, high-spirited teen suffering from an acute case of small-town ennui. She comes from a well-to-do Southern family and takes great pleasure in upending conventions. Her rebellion, however, reflects a certain spoiled lassitude, and mostly takes the form of smoking, drinking and skinny dipping. A writer herself, she longs to live in a place less fusty, but does little about it, content to pass time with her suitors.
In Northerner Fitzgerald (Australian actor David Hoflin), an officer and aspiring author stationed at nearby Camp Sheridan whom she meets at a dance, Zelda sees a sophistication lacking in most Montgomery boys. Their immediate attraction takes on an extra urgency as Fitzgerald, who also exhibits an exuberance for alcohol, is preparing to ship out to fight in World War I.
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The success of “Z” depends on its two main characters’ chemistry, and Ricci (“The Addams Family,” “The Opposite of Sex”) and Hoflin have no problem burning hot and bright. Ricci, the former child actor who also produces the show, infuses Zelda with an arch knowingness, and her youthful looks allow her to believably play the character from teen to adult. Hoflin brings a forceful-yet-fragile self-importance to Fitzgerald, who incorporates Zelda’s observations into his novels, which would include “The Great Gatsby” and others that mapped the 20th-century American psyche.
By the third episode (out of 10 in Season 1), the couple is off to New York, Fitzgerald has published his first book, and the two are happily poised to become exemplars of Jazz-Age excess. Paris awaits, we assume, as do future heartrending experiences that will lead Fitzgerald to write such memorable words as: “Angry, and half in love with her, and tremendously sorry, I turned away.”
Z: The Beginning of Everything
Streaming on Amazon starting Jan. 27