Easy review: Netflix’s new comedy-drama is easy-peasy lemon squeezy
Now this is a difficult show to talk about. Don’t worry – the irony isn’t lost. It’s called Easy though, and it comes from the one-man-army that is Joe Swanberg – the creator/writer/director of all its 8 episodes. Now, this might be debatable, but at least until Black Mirror’s fourth season premieres, Easy is easily Netflix’s most experimental original show.
Which, if you’re familiar with Swanberg’s films, can’t be too surprising. He is one of the pioneers - along with Andrew Bujalski and the Duplass Brothers - of the mumblecore movement – a niche genre characterised by raw, formless, heavily improvised, obtuse storytelling.
To fully appreciate the oddball charm of Easy, his first TV show, you needn’t look any further than his almost two dozen feature films in a decade-long career. They’re all variations on the same basic themes – modern relationships in a world populated by hipsters in their late twenties.
You’re right, it’s perfectly reasonable to find the idea of watching insufferable vegan uber-liberals wearing large frames and bangs talk endlessly about themselves and that new garage band they’ve just discovered acutely repellent. But that’s sort of what mumblecore does. But you know what? Sometimes, almost by fluke it seems, it offers true insight into the lives of a very misunderstood generation.
And that’s the thing about Easy. It’s essentially about the same characters Swanberg has been exploring for more than ten years now, but like him, they’ve grown up. It was all right being self-obsessed and airheaded in your twenties, but how do you cope with a receding hairline and two children? How does a person whose favourite pastime was deciding which brand of kale to buy suddenly deal with the onset of marital jealously, routine, familiarity and responsibility?
It’s not easy.
This show is basically like getting 8 short films from Swanberg. It’s all very self-indulgent, very vignetty – like jazz without any of the smoothness.
The idea is that each of the 8 episodes works as a standalone story set in the same universe, or in this case, city – Chicago. Oddly though, this concept is all but abandoned somewhere around midway through the season for entire episodes. While most of them share at least one character, who, like in Richard Linklater’s Slacker, forms the connective tissue between two separate stories, Swanberg plays super fast and loose with this device.
What this also means is that each episode has to be evaluated individually, and not, as would normally be the case, as a part of a season worth of TV. Immediately, it is clear that not all episodes are going to be of a similar quality. But what took me by surprise was just how up and down this show went in the space of just 8 half-hour-long episodes.
To start things off, let me tell you about the ones that work. Episodes 1 (called The F*****g Study, starring Michael Chernus and Elizabeth Reaser), Episode 3 (The Brewery Brothers, starring Dave Franco), Episode 4 (Controlada, the best one, and also almost entirely in Spanish) and Episode 5 (Art and Life, starring Marc Maron and Emily Ratajkowski) were all varying degrees of excellent. True, Emily Ratajkowski’s character was an ‘artist’ who documented her life in selfies, but weirdly, it made sense.
The rest of the episodes, most notably Episode 6 (Utopia, starring Orlando Bloom and Malin Ackerman) was unbearably irritating, mostly because of Orlando Bloom’s bizarre acting choices and an awkward story (a happily married couple discover the joys of Tinder). Most of Swanberg’s stuff is improvised, and it takes a very talented actor to pull it off. Orlando Bloom (who has run out of free passes now), isn’t one of them.
You would’ve also noticed the impressive cast by now, and I haven’t even mentioned Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Buress and Kate Micuccci yet. Swanberg’s never really had a problem attracting a cast and considering the vital role they play in his process, it’s not that surprising.
Say what you will, Swanberg is a unique voice documenting the lives of a generation straddling two very different worlds. And it doesn’t look like he’s running out of stories to tell.
All in all, Easy benefits from a thankfully short season, a top-form cast, and an intriguing concept. But the title is going to prove eye-rollingly ironic for newcomers and folks who aren’t familiar with the acquired taste that is mumblecore.
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