Sunday, 9 October 2016

CAUGHT ON NETFLIX: Easy

Following the unprecedented success* of my Orange Is The New Black reviews, I decided to take another crack at a Netflix series. I had no idea what Easy was, other than knowing it was some kind of anthology and indie darling/mumblecore poster boy Joe Swanberg was behind it.   

I liked the sound of that, and the cast was solid, so I took the plunge and checked it out.




Episode One: 'The Fucking Study'

Elisabeth Reaser and OITNB's Michael Chernus play a longtime couple trying to spice up their sex life. With Halloween coming up, they decide it is the perfect time for some role playing. While their kids are out 'trick or treating', the couple attempt to play a game of 'sexy neighbour' and 'construction worker'. Events do not go to plan.

This episode was a little underwhelming. It was pretty predictable, and while the acting was good these characters did not feel particularly interesting.

Episode Two: 'Vegan Cinderella'

This episode is leaps and bounds above the first one. This time, the story is about a young woman attempting to adapt to her new girlfriend's vegan lifestyle. She chucks out all of her food and buys an old bike to try and fit in with her new girlfriend.

Kiersey Clemons from Dope plays the lead here, with Jacqueline Toboni as her new girlfriend and Jaz Sinclair as Clemons' best friend and roommate. Unlike the first segment, this one was fun and a bit different. The humour felt more natural, and less like the set up for a joke.

Following supporting roles in Dope and Neighbours 2, Clemons gets to be the centre of attention here, and she is terrific as the lead. Hopefully, Hollywood BS doesn't get in the way and she gets more leads. She's a real talent.

Episode Three: 'Brewery Brothers'

Two brothers, responsible Matt (Evan Jonigkeit) and free-spirited Jeff (Dave Franco), are brought back together when one of them has a baby. Yearning to spend more time together, the brothers decide to start an illegal brewery together. When Matt's wife Sherri (Aya Cash) finds out, the couple have to re-evaluate their relationship.

This episode is kind of sweet -- it has a good theme but suffers from a really shortened run time (each episode runs 30 minutes). It does feel like the pilot for a great TV show I would watch. The resolution is a nice twist, but it would have meant something if the story did not feel so crammed in.

Episode Four: 'Controlada'


With this episode I feel like I'm getting onto the wavelength of this show. 

This story concerns a couple, Bernie (Raul Castillo) and Gabi (Aisling Derbez), who are trying to conceive a baby when Gabi's ex-boyfriend Martin (Mauricio Ochmann) arrives for a visit. 

Long stretches of this episode takes place in Spanish, and yet it is the most relatable in terms of the focus on the nuances of the characters and their motivations. Because this episode is so small and intimate in scale, it fits the format better than some of the previous episodes. There's no real plot to get in the way, allowing character dynamics to take over. 

Episode Five: 'Art and Life'


Probably the best episode of the lot, because it takes a theme and channels it into a vignette that works for the short format of the show. As stated previously, most of the episodes feel like movies forced into 30 minutes -- this one feels exactly the right length. 

Marc Maron plays Jacob Malco, a graphic novelist who specialises in exploiting the ugly realities of his life for his books. When the release of his new work kills his (latest) relationship, he enters into a spiral of depression and (greater) self-absorption. At a (sparsely attended) lecture, he meets a beautiful young photo artist, Allison (Emily Ratajkowski). They get drunk and have sex.

The next day, the artist wakes up believing he has found his one true love. He goes to an exhibit of her work where he is horrified to discover that she had taken naked photos of him while he slept. He has a meltdown in the middle of the exhibit, which ends up as a viral video on the internet. Of course, Jacob's feelings change when his outburst boosts his profile and increases the sales of his book.

A fun little curio that manages to act as a pretty good skewering of the ego that goes into art (and life), this episode features a strong performance from Maron as the blissfully self-unaware artist and the great Jane Adams (Hung) as his best friend Annabelle. 

Episode Six: 'Utopia'

A married couple, Tom and Lucy (Orlando Bloom and Malin Ackerman), discover Tinder for the first time and decide to try a threesome. Things get complicated when their mutual friend Annie (Kate Micucci) swipes right.


On the good side, Bloom and Ackermann are surprisingly good in the lead roles -- Bloom in particular is not the most versatile actor, but even he fits in with the Swanberg aestheticProbably more of a disappointment after two strong episodes, 'Utopia' exemplifies my problems with this show.

Once again, despite decent acting, this is another episode that ultimately falls flat because of the runtime. The premise for this one sounds promising as a comedy or a drama -- how will the experience effect the couple? Will their relationship be weakened or (more radically) strengthened by it? Once again, the story is fudged by the time we get to the credits.

Episode Seven: 'Chemistry Read' 

Guru Mbatha-Raw and Jake Johnson star in this one, but that is not much of a recommendation. This is the one episode where it's hard to grasp what it is about.

The episode does include one vaguely interesting scene -- an extended take in which Mbatha-Raw's character (an actress) has to perform a full audition scene with no cuts. The problem is, it's hard to tell what it all adds up to. 

I wasn't really feeling this one. The acting, as usual is good, but the episode ultimately feels like cut scenes from a drama, except that they ran out of money before they could shoot the important scenes.

Episode Eight: 'Hoop Dreams'

Hannibal Burris joins the revolving cast as Jason, a Chicago journalist investigating the Brewery Brothers from Episode Three. 

While 'Brewery Brothers' focused on Matt (Evan Jonigkeit), this one is focused on Dave Franco's Jeff. While girlfriend Noelle (Zadie Beetz) is dealing with an unexpected pregnancy, Jeff is trying to deal with his brother's ambitions for the brewery.   

Whereas its prequel felt like a pilot, this feels like the season finale. I really like the rapport between the actors -- the focus on two very different couples would make for a great TV show in its own right, and it is serviceable here, but feels reined in by the limits of the show. 

Final Thoughts

Like all anthologies, Easy suffers from a few segments which do not work. Most of this is due to stories which demand more than 30 minutes. 

Episodes Two, Four, Five and the Brewery Bros episodes are definite highlights. The acting is all good -- it ultimately comes down to the quality of individual scripts.

Here's hoping Joe Swanberg can come up with some better stories for Season 2. And I hope this doesn't put Netflix off further anthology shows, because it's a good format -- they just need a good concept and strong stories.

If you're curious, check out the episodes I've highlighted, but overall it's a miss.

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