For those unfamiliar with the President and First Lady of country music, Jones and Wynette fell into each other’s orbit in the late 1960s and dominated the country charts over the next two decades. As George & Tammy shows, the duo went on to make dozens of chart-topping songs both together and separately as a result of their tumultuous love affair.
The series is based on the book The Three of Us: Growing Up With Tammy and George written by their daughter Georgette Jones, who also serves as a consulting producer. From the first episode, Chastain’s Tammy says, “I believe you have to live a song to make it good,” and with episodes titled after six of their iconic hits, George & Tammy proceeds to show the world how their lives are reflected in their music and the sometimes devastating truth behind the lyrics. At the same time that the story informs the music, the way Jones and Wynette’s music is used throughout George & Tammy enriches the narrative and heightens the emotion.
First and foremost, George & Tammy is a love story, which, in addition to its real-life roots, is what makes it such a compelling drama series. Chastain and Shannon excellently show the deep, passionate, and often painful love that Wynette and Jones had for each other during their lifetimes. More than anything else, you can tell that George and Tammy love each other, despite everything that comes between them and the things they do to one another. At the end of the day, what they shared was real and enduring. The chemistry between Chastain and Shannon is captivating, and it lends itself easily to the story and answers the “why” behind the sometimes puzzling choices made by who they’re portraying.
While not without its fair share of heartbreak, the series is also overwhelmingly romantic. George & Tammy tells a very human story and gets you to care about these characters and root for their connection and success almost immediately. And in spite of the devastating reality of how their story ends, George & Tammy plays upon your emotions in such a way that you wish for this version of their lives to come to a happily ever after. The series is also surprisingly sexy, with multiple moments of intimacy shown across the episodes underlining the passion and fire Jones and Wynette have for each other. It never feels exploitive, and most of these scenes center around her pleasure in a way that embodies the female gaze.
In conjunction with its beautifully devastating love story, George & Tammy tells a candid tale about addiction — both to drugs and alcohol as well as to each other. While George spends the better part of his life trying and failing many times over to get a handle on his struggles with alcohol, Tammy’s dependency on painkillers brings her life to an early end. George’s alcoholism is present throughout the limited series, and it’s the driving force behind the conflict between these two characters. Tammy’s addiction to painkillers is more gradual, as what begins as a necessity evolves into her only way to keep going.
While it certainly doesn’t shy away from the ugly truth in their story, George & Tammy humanizes both of their struggles by highlighting the amount of pain they went through in their shared lifetimes. While we spend slightly more time in Tammy’s point of view — and she is positioned as the more sympathetic of the two — your heart aches as you watch the contrast between a happy, sober George and the reckless, angry alcoholic that fame turned him into. So many things in Tammy’s life happened without her consent, and while George & Tammy shows just how insidious that loss of agency is, it also highlights the strength it took for her to keep going until she couldn’t.
There’s a clear affection for Tammy Wynette evident in every piece of this series, and by the end, you’ll almost wish that you had known her personally. You can easily see the care with which her story is told, both through Georgette Jones’ influence behind the camera and Chastain’s outstanding portrayal. In particular, Chastain’s love for Tammy’s story really jumps off the screen, and she delivers yet another career-best, awards-worthy performance because of it. Shannon also terrifically captures George Jones, showing the extremes of his personality while remaining empathetic and well-paced. Befitting of the subject matter, both Shannon and Chastain deliver musical numbers in each episode, capturing the spirits of George Jones and Tammy Wynette while simultaneously creating something unique, honest, and genuinely impressive. Their duet rendition of Jones’ “Why, Baby, Why?” will no doubt be sneaking onto next year’s Spotify Wrapped playlists.
George & Tammy is beautifully shot and directed, with a distinct emphasis on the intimate details of their story. Director John Hillcoat, known best for Lawless and The Road, also has a number of music video credits under his belt which lends itself quite nicely to this series. Hillcoat creates a vision that is filled with the grandeur of super-stardom and the delicate nature of love and heartbreak. Almost every shot is strikingly interesting, adding an extra layer of subtext to the story. George & Tammy feels cohesive from the top to the bottom, and every player both on and off-screen brought their A-game. Hillcoat’s direction creates moments of warmth and joy in the good times that contrast beautifully with the cold horrors of the bad times.
Overall, George & Tammy is as evocative as it is entertaining. Chastain shows off her exceptional range as an actress, and she’ll likely have a head start on next year’s Emmy Awards by the end of the limited series’ run — it’ll be a shame if she and Shannon don’t earn nominations, at the very least. While it was originally conceived as a movie over 10 years ago, the long journey to delivering George & Tammy as a limited series has made the final product that much better. Over the course of its six episodes, the series is easily one of the best musical biopics released in recent memory.
George & Tammy premieres on Showtime on December 4, with new episodes airing on Sundays through January 8, 2023. New episodes will be available to stream early on the Showtime app every Friday.