There’s a genre that we’ll call “whaaa(!?!) television.” Or, simply, “WTF TV.”
These are shows in which the characters have no idea what’s going on. Nor do the viewers. We kind of hope the writers do, but we’re never sure.
Reality is juggled, time is shifted, minds are bent. The result is both compelling and confusing; and now two such shows are arrived, almost simultaneously.
Hulu’s “Devs” will be March 5, so we’ll discuss it another time. It’s set among tech geniuses, so we expect them to be bending and shifting and such. But AMC’s “Dispatches From Elsewhere” (shown here) is another matter, it arrives Sunday (March 1), descending on four ordinary people.
The opener (10 p.m.) focuses on Peter, whose work and life provide few worries or joys. As played by Jason Segel (who directed and co-wrote the opener), he plods along on autopilot.
Then he follows some strange messages and meets three strangers. As “Dispatches” moves to its 10 p.m. Monday slot, we focus on each, one at a time.
Simone (March 2) needs an adventure; she’s played by trans actress Eve Lindley. Janice (March 9) has lived a comfortable life with her husband, but wants some fun; she’s played zestfully by Sally Field (shown here, center, with Segel and Lindley), the two-time Oscar winner. Fredwynn (March 16) … well, at first all we know is that he’s intense; he’s played by Andre Benjamin, who’s known as Andre 3000 when he raps in the Outkast duo.
These people all have holes in their lives, so they jump into the unknown. But what is it?
Is it just a game, as Janice assumes? Or a struggle to save mankind, as Fredwynn guesses? Peter has no idea, but he has lots of time and is willing to slog along.
And for viewers? I can’t guarantee this will be worth it – people are still arguing about “Lost,” after all – but individual episodes vary.
The opener catches us immediately, with the offbeat introduction by Richard E. Gramt, who is the droll narrator and the show’s villain and/or hero. There’s something special about seeing absurdity through the eyes of Peter, whose life has been way too non-absurd.
The second and fourth episodes lose something at times, but the third stands out. Janice is a deceptively deep character, torn between a satisfying life and all the could-have/should-haves. She sometimes submits to little-old-lady cliches and sometimes resists them. She’s the sort of character Field masters.
But what happens after those four episodes? Will “Dispatches” be worth the effort?
That’s the thing about this genre. We really won’t know until we get to the end. And maybe we won’t know then. We’ll be left with a final burst of “whaaa(!?!).”