The thrilling factor about an anthology sequence is that you simply by no means know what the subsequent episode will convey. The daunting factor about an anthology sequence is that you simply by no means know what the subsequent episode will convey. Mark and Jay Duplass’ Room 104 mitigates that crap shoot with a single assure: Regardless of the director, regardless of the premise, each episode of Room 104 will happen in the identical nondescript room of the identical unnamed motel. It’s one thing new for one of many oldest types of TV there’s (although it should be mentioned that David Lynch did it first, and for HBO, besides): limitless prospects between 4 plain-looking partitions.
The constraints can generally make the most recent HBO effort from the Duplass brothers—following the tender dramedy Togetherness, which they created, and the animated comedy Animals, which they produce—really feel as very similar to a writers’ seminar project because it does a tv sequence. It’s an train in inspiration by limitation, the setting turning into a clean canvas for themes of maternity, mortality, constancy, ageing, revenge, glory, devotion, and different matters each coated and never coated by the literature left behind by whichever member of Gideons Worldwide stayed in room 104. (And wouldn’t you already know it: There’s a midseason episode about two Mormon missionaries.)
Nonetheless, the seize bag nature of the anthology format is in full impact: Of the six episodes HBO made out there to critics, one is really nice, two are good, two are middling, and one is an enchanting mess. Sadly for our frequent associations with anthology TV, one of many “middling”s and the “fascinating mess” spring from Room 104’s dabblings in style. From The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents to Tales From The Crypt and Black Mirror, one of these present has all the time lent itself to suspense, screams, and the supernatural, none of which appear to return naturally to Room 104.
The whole sequence kicks off with a kind of unhealthy Tales From The Darkside knockoffs. “Ralphie” is a creepy child/unassuming babysitter yarn whose script, written by Mark Duplass, captures the acquainted, queasy feeling of an atypical particular person dropped into extraordinary circumstances. However when the story veers, jarringly, into nightmare territory, it does so earlier than director Sarah Adina Smith has an opportunity to determine any kind of nightmare environment, and its ultimate chills fail to linger. (A query you don’t need to be asking your self in the midst of a scary story: “So the sitter by no means needed to go to the lavatory?”) Smith has higher luck with “The Knockadoo,” which is all over conceptually—there’s a cult, there’s a repressed reminiscence, there’s a recreation Tony Todd preaching a gospel of bullshit in a sequence of infomercial-quality movies—however boasts nice turns by Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris and Orlando Jones and the steadily constructing unease that’s missing from “Ralphie.”
Apart from Todd’s televisual interjections, “The Knockadoo” performs out between Luqmaan-Harris and Jones; the vast majority of “Ralphie” consists of Melonie Diaz interacting with younger Ethan Kent. These episodes are, in stage parlance, “two-handers,” and so they’re not the one a part of Room 104 that accommodates a hint of the theatrical. In truth, that’s most of what works concerning the sequence: With its intimacy, emphasis on efficiency, and intent to repeatedly remodel essentially the most spartan of surroundings, it’s a present that rewards something that makes the titular location really feel like a black field. (On this sense, the sequence reaches previous the heyday of The Twilight Zone and into the televised performs of stay, golden age anthologies like Playhouse 90 and Studio One.) In “The Web” and “My Love,” respectively, Karan Soni and Philip Baker Corridor captivate with what are basically episode-length monologues, as the previous makes an attempt to retrieve an vital doc from a misplaced laptop computer (over the cellphone, within the dial-up days of 1997) and the latter spills his guts to the spouse he first slept with in room 104.
The very best Room 104 has to supply is a theatrical expertise in and of itself, a new-wave dream ballet written and directed by Guggenheim fellow Dayna Hanson during which a housekeeper (Dendrie Taylor) relives a painful reminiscence by motion and moody lighting—and ultimately a pas de deux along with her youthful self (Sarah Hay). A later installment during which two combined martial arts fighters deal with room 104 as their very own private octagon hits more durable with its camerawork, but it surely’s Hanson’s episode that proves simply how a lot area there’s to maneuver across the twin beds and dressers. Because the fantasia unfolds, the attraction of tuning in to Room 104 and never figuring out what you’re going to get actually sinks in. The thought of somebody flipping by and getting sucked into this expertly staged, artfully edited experiment in the midst of a late-night lull is much more thrilling.
Created by: Mark and Jay Duplass
Starring: Hugo Armstrong, Davie-Blue, Melonie Diaz, Jay Duplass, Veronica Falcon, Adam Foster, Ellen Geer, Keir Gilchrist, Philip Baker Corridor, Sarah Hay, Poorna Jagannathan, Orlando Jones, Ethan & Gavin Kent, Amy Landecker, Konstantin Lavysh, Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris, Keta Meggett, Natalie Morgan, Ross Partridge, Karan Soni, Dendrie Taylor, Tony Todd, Will Tranfo, James Van Der Beek, Mae Whitman, and Nat Wolff
Debuts: Friday, July 28 at 11:30 p.m. Jap on HBO
Format: Half-hour anthology sequence
Six episodes watched for evaluation