Roush Review: ‘Ratched’ Feathers Its Cuckoo’s Nest With Lurid Nonsense

Sarah Paulson Mildred Ratched Season 1 Episode 7
Saeed Adyani/Netflix

A cuckoo’s nest would be child’s play to the lunatics running the asylum in Ratched, a lurid concoction of gruesomely campy Grand Guignol excess. Closer in tone to Ryan Murphy’s Nip/Tuck and American Horror Story than the Ken Kesey classic that inspired the Oscar-winning One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, this purported origin story for the infamously rigid Nurse Ratched (immortalized in the movie by Louise Fletcher) is, in a word, nuts.

When it’s not being too gross to watch or too ridiculous to matter, this eight-part series is a treat for the eyes. It’s like tuning into Turner Classic Movies and realizing you’ve mistakenly taken LSD (which is one of the many preposterous plot twists along the way). A Technicolor palette of late-1940s costumes and vintage automobiles is accompanied by a lush musical score echoing — sometimes outright copying — the best of composer Bernard Herrmann in his Hitchcock period.

Ratched clearly owes a debt to the famed suspense director and his masterpiece, Psycho, which comparatively is a model of restraint. Norman Bates has nothing on Mildred Ratched when it comes to sexual repression and homicidal urges, somehow made credible and even glamorous by Murphy regular Sarah Paulson (who’s still paying him back for the Emmy she righteously earned as Marcia Clark in American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson).

Sarah Paulson Cynthia Nixon Mildred Ratched Gwendolyn Briggs

(Saeed Adyani/Netflix)

The story, such as it is, begins when Mildred worms her way into a remarkably spacious and cutting-edge — think lobotomies — psychiatric hospital in Northern California, with interiors more suited to the Overlook Hotel from Stephen King’s The Shining. This angel of no mercy obviously has an ulterior motive, and so does nearly everyone else, including the shady private eye (Corey Stoll) who occupies a nearby cabin in the seaside motel where Mildred makes her new home.

As always in a deluxe Murphy production, the cast is as incredible as the characters are over the top. Cynthia Nixon brings actual nuance to the role of Mildred’s politically connected love interest, while others content themselves with chewing the opulent scenery: Judy Davis as Ratched’s snarky head-nurse nemesis, Amanda Plummer as the boozy and nosy motel manager, Sophie Okonedo as a patient whose extreme multiple personalities often conveniently advance the plot, and Finn Wittrock as a serial killer who sets the tone for Ratched while harboring a secret connection.

And I haven’t even mentioned Sharon Stone (and her pet monkey), because to do so would risk spoiling the most grotesque and pointless of all the many subplots.

Call me crazy, but once I committed myself (pardon the pun) to Ratched, I couldn’t stop watching — even though I really wanted to.

Ratched, Series Premiere, Friday, Sept. 18, Netflix