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The Path Season One

One of Hulu’s first forays into original programming, The Path is a compelling journey. Tackling issues of what faith means to different individuals, and how perception shapes reality, The Path ends up being more than a showcase for peak television actors. While it stumbles a bit in the hazy details, and often has more ideas in its head than on screen, it still remains a complex Spring binge with more than a few tricks up its sleeve.

A show like The Path requires convincing world-building. We have to buy in to whatever its characters are buying into, otherwise everything falls apart. Luckily, The Path is provocative from the get-go, asking questions you may not get answers to at the end of each episode. Airing weekly instead of using the binge model proves to be beneficial for this series, from creator Jessica Goldberg and executive producer Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights, Parenthood).

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The show introduces us to the fictional religion of Meyerism. With its own lexicon and terminology, The Path wastes no time getting us acquainted with climbing “The Ladder,” as its called, to enlightenment. Its followers gather at a compound for worship and spiritual development led by the charismatic leader Cal (Hugh Dancy). Its easy to see why Meyerism’s followers are drawn to Cal – he’s appealling and enigmatic. Dancy’s performance draws you in, and you’ll fall for him and his words, but we quickly learn that Cal isn’t all that he seems.

Most of the conflict is mined from the characters of Eddie (Aaron Paul) and Sarah (Michelle Monaghan). Sarah has a tight relationship with leader Cal and is a powerful leader in The Movement in her own right. Her husband Eddie, while on a retreat in Peru completing another step of The Ladder, suffers a crisis of faith and begins to question the fundamental beliefs of Meyerism. His questioning is the catalyst for his psychological unraveling as Eddie’s relationships begin to crumble, with Paul channeling significant angst in a brilliant post-Bad role. He seeks out a Meyerism defector and this sets the stage for a spiritual brawl. The couple’s son, Hawk, ends up being more than just a teen-angst vehicle as well, as he completes the steps to become an adult in The Movement and take his vows. Like Eddie, he suffers a religious crisis of his own after he develops feeling for a girl at his school who wants nothing to do with The Movement.

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While its supporting characters are not nearly as convincing as its leads, they still add much to the world-building and character of the not-a-cult Meyerism. Mary (Emma Greenwell), a recovering addict, is our entrypoint into Meyerism as she is “saved” in a rescue effort and becomes devoted to The Movement. Greenwell is game and gives Mary many different shades as her character explores blossoming spiritual attraction as well as romantic attraction. Meanwhile, FBI agent Abe (Rockmund Dunbar) is investigating The Movement after their suspicious activity following a natural disaster in which they welcomed victims into their compound. Most of this conflict is external, as Abe gets closer and closer to the truth, but it remains the least compelling piece of the puzzle. We know the investigation won’t really lead anywhere, and seeing Abe stumble and face personal faith crises of his own grows repetitive and a tad inconsequential.

The Path accomplishes what it sets out to do, and more. It explores faith in a variety of different avenues – Sarah’s faith to both Eddie and Cal, Mary’s newfound faith, Hawk’s faith to his family and Ashley – and does so without feeling preachy or ostentatious. It remains a well-acted and beautifully produced show, leaving me anxious for its second season.

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Posted by on May 26, 2016 in TV Reviews

 

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Difficult People Season 1

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Well this one was definitely a surprise. The last thing we need is a show about unlikable people living in New York City, navigating their love life and careers. But Difficult People came out of nowhere, featuring a pair of hysterical protagonists that push people away, yet are always there for each other.

Duo Billy Eichner and Julie Klausner (also the creator) have irresistible chemistry, and the show is instantly quotable. They both work as comedians, a laughable career that any struggling professional can relate to. As they attempt to get their work appreciated, they work part-time at cafes and write TV recaps. Difficult People is surprisingly accurate in its modern depiction of show business in 2015. They lose jobs to twitter comedians and people half their age, and spend their time bickering and wallowing in their self-pity.

The writing in Difficult People is outstanding. While initially it may seem to rely solely on celebrity name drops and overuse of expletives, you realize this is simply Billy and Julie’s characters. They’re salty and bitter, so their only solace is talking smack on twitter about people more successful than them. Of course the show can only rely on Uber references and Woody Allen jokes for so long, and that’s why the best episodes, The Children’s Menu and Premium Membership, are the ones where Billy and Julie try out-of-the-box entrepreneurial ventures, that sound straight out of the Shark Tank reject bin. The show is relentlessly creative, and you can’t wait to see what dumb ideas they come up with next. The show pokes fun at everything from podcast culture to telethons to Jewish hospitality, and almost nothing is safe.

Plot-wise there isn’t much going on here, but this is an eight episode season (it’s already been renewed), so a lack of character development is expected. Supporting characters make a surprisingly strong impact, with Julie’s boyfriend Arthur playing the straight man to Billy and Julie’s zaniness. Additionally, Andrea Martin has plenty of scene stealers as Julie’s mother, who misses her shows to treat her therapy patients over the phone.

Difficult People definitely relies on the strength of its stars to carry the weight, and carry this weight they do. Eichner and Klausner may not sell the emotional scenes, and some flat character development requires the focus to be solely on the comedy, but it’s always on point. I can see a lot of people being turned off by the show, either because of Billy and Julie’s snarkiness or the unrelatability of the premises. But its observations into showbiz in NYC, modern gay culture, and what it means to be a comedian in 2015 are eerily accurate and it’s clear the show has plenty more up its sleeve.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2015 in TV Reviews

 

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