The overly literal, shapeless nature of the storytelling takes its toll within the latter half of the series, which flattens out into a protracted, slow march to a foregone conclusion. Jones’s late-career resurgence is hinted at but doesn’t figure into the show’s tidy “A Star Is Born” moral arc. Other interesting facets of the singers’ real-life story, like Jones’s fight for traditional musical styles and the feminist backlash against Wynette’s stand-by-your-man anthems, receive the briefest nods.
Chastain and Shannon, working with the director John Hillcoat, never falter, though. They’re good when things are going bad, they usually’re higher when things are going well, within the playful moments. Shannon is hilarious when the all the time inappropriate Jones softly sings the chorus of Wynette’s hit “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” — in front of her children and husband — to let her know that his own divorce has come through. And the 2 are touching in a scene through which their flirtation deepens while Wynette, a former hairdresser, washes Jones’s unruly hair (a repeated baptismal motif).
“George & Tammy” has a smaller forged than most high-profile historical-biographical dramas; of the supporting players, the 2 who stand out are David Wilson Barnes, because the beneficently ruthless producer Billy Sherrill, and Pat Healy, who is especially good as Don Chapel, the talented but weak and chauvinistic husband Wynette leaves for Jones.
Other talented performers are stranded by the script. Steve Zahn is stuck portraying the designated villain, George Richey, Wynette’s last husband, and he’s given nothing to play but greed and smarminess, while Walton Goggins makes little impression as Montgomery, who’s a cipher. (The actual Earl “Peanutt” Montgomery gets a greater scene than any given to Goggins, just a few atmospheric seconds as a street musician who draws Jones’s attention.)
Each time Chastain or Shannon is onscreen, nonetheless, the series is prone to hold your attention, even when nothing particularly interesting is occurring. The country songs that they sing are likely to be beautifully constructed, self-contained dramas; the writers of “George & Tammy” could have studied them more closely.