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Finding Your Way Through Peak TV: Room 104’s “The Internet”

by Alex Chiles, who you can find thinking of more Peak TV analogies on Twitter @axchiles

While I eagerly but cautiously await my MoviePass card and all the potential fun that may bring, I’m going to sidestep over to the world of television this week. I do really mean sidestep, as this world of “Peak TV” has brought us film-quality goodness that is available literally at our fingertips. However, this world is tough to navigate because there is so freaking much good stuff out there. Many people find themselves in a sort of decision-making paralysis which inevitably often leads to watching The Office for the ninth time instead of checking out something new. In this seemingly endless sea of television, let me simply point you in one direction that is really worth a look. I don’t do this necessarily to convince you to watch this particular show, but rather to demonstrate what these particular artists are capable of and encourage you to check out more of their work.

To do this, I want to zoom in on one new episode of a TV show that aired last week. Room 104 is the newest HBO series from the prolific and talented Duplass brothers (the men behind Animals & Togetherness, as well as several films). Before we can talk about the episode, we have to discuss the show’s unique structure, because that’s what allows for so much of the magic here. Each episode is standalone (think Twilight Zone), which allows the brothers absolute freedom from episode to episode. They don’t have to get bogged down in world-building or long character arcs. They don’t have to make sure episode 1 foreshadows the climax in episode 10. They don’t have to stick to a single genre. Hell, they don’t even have to stick to particular place in time (The episode I’ll discuss seems to take place in the past, judging by the old-school designs on the Wendy’s cups and Cheetos bag). The only rule? The half-hour episode must take place inside a particular hotel room, #104.

The first several episodes captured horror and thriller genres, but the last two have the Duplass brothers showing off their dramatic chops. This particular episode, “The Internet”, has a simple premise: a young man trying to explain over the phone to his computer illiterate mother how to work his laptop. It starts as a comedy but deftly transitions into drama. The majority of the episode is the two of them talking on the phone, and it’s amazing how fleshed out both characters feel by the end. The writing is superb, mixing in character details into his instructions to his mom, giving them the necessary depth to make the emotional ending all the more effective.

I could write a lot more about the themes the episode gets into, but can’t without spoilers, so I’ll leave it at that. I’ll just say, there is so much great stuff out there beyond the popular and the familiar. Check out Animals for some quirky animated goodness, or Togetherness for an indie drama type feel, or even Transparent (an excellent show starring one of the two brothers). I could go on and on.

Back to films next week!

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Movies & TV

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