In TV’s early years, anthologies thrived.
They were inconsistent, but we forgot the bad moments and savored the good ones – “Twilight Zone” or “Hitchcock” or tales that became movies, from “12 Angry Men” to “Requiem For a Heavyweight.”
And now – thanks to streaming or cable – they’ve made a mild comeback. AMC’s “Soulmates” (10 p.m. on six Mondays), shown here with Charlie Heaton and Malin Akerman, joins a mini-trend that has included “Modern Love,” “The Romanoffs” and “Black Mirror” … from a “Soulmates” writer-producer.
Like “Black Mirror,” this is set in the near future, when technology may be a tad too good. This time, it can peer into our souls and select an exact mate.
And like most anthologies, it’s inconsistent. The first episode (Oct. 5) is fairly good; it’s first because it explains the premise. The last one is disappointing; it’s last because … well, it has to be somewhere.
But in between are four terrific – and wildly varied – episodes. One of the best is an odd delight that might remind you of two old movies – “Something Wild” and Martin Scorsese’s “After Hours.”
Those films started with a reserved chap meeting a free-spirited woman; in this case, both characters are men. “It’s written by a gay man, directed by a gay man,” Will Bridges, one of the “Soulmates” creators, told the Television Critics Association. “But it’s not about being gay. It’s just a fun story.”
Bridges was a “Black Mirror” producer; now he and Brett Goldstein run this show, “telling love stories from different points of view …. Because it’s an anthology, we can tell a different story every episode.”
They can also have a rich variety of actors, each hired for one episode. Charlie Heaton (“Stranger Things”) gives a particularly moving performance.
Some actors fit previous images. We expect David Costabile to play someone mean – as he did in “The Wire” and does in “Billions”; he does again here. Betsy Brandt was dead-serious in “Breaking Bad,” but many viewers know her from the “Life in Pieces” comedy; here, she’s deeply tragic.
The actors seem to agree that they’re glad no computer has linked them to a duplicate. Brandt’s husband of 20 years works for a software company. “If my husband wasn’t so different from me, I wouldn’t be able to even get on this (internet) panel,” she said.
Malin Akerman – who makes a fascinating duo with Heaton (16 years her junior)– agreed. “It definitely makes it more exciting and fun and challenging when you have someone who’s different.”
Sarah Snook, who stars in the opener, says she asked actors and crew members what they would do. “It was pretty divided of who would take the (soulmate) test and who wouldn’t.”
Sonya Cassidy – who plays a richly enigmatic character opposite Costabile – agreed. “I like the excitement of meeting someone,” she said. The ideal would include contrasts in many things “and being on the same page where it counts.”
The episodes (subject to change) are:
– Oct. 4: In a bittersweet opener, Snook plays someone with two children and a reasonably solid marriage, stunned when her brother and her neighbor take the soulmate test. AMC reruns it at 11:03 p.m., then at 9 a.m. Tuesday and 4:15 a.m. Friday. Also: 3:58 p.m. ET Wednesday on IFC, Thursday night at midnight on Sundance, Friday night at midnight ET on BBC America.
– Oct. 11: Costabile plays a married professor who took the test years ago. Now Cassidy arrives, saying she’s his match. Unlike the subdued opener, this has big plot twists and splashy visuals.
– Oct. 18: Laia Costa gives an endearing, childlike performance as a wife who took the test years ago. This seems predictable for a while, then takes a neat twist.
– Oct. 25: En route to meet the man who’s his soulmate, a naive guy (Bill Skarsgard) has a quick hook-up with a stranger (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett). That propels life-changing (and entertaining) adventures.
– Nov. 2: His soulmate died before they met, so a young farmer (Heaton) ponders the afterlife and a cult. That’s where he meets an older woman (Akerman) with similar goals. The result is a beautifully played drama that closes as an adventure.
– Nov. 9: Brandt is stunned by her match. The result is a so-so finish to a fascinating series.