'Dispatches from Elsewhere' Episode 1: Urban ennui and the search for novelty makes for a bland fare
The characters, Peter, Simone, Janice and Fredwyn, all archetypical stand-ins for the show's audience, have to be told that their bored numbness makes them all, contrary to common sense, rare and special individuals
If you are privileged in a world where other people have to hustle day and night to make a living wage, does the world lose some of its color? If everything in your life is safe, bland, predictable and bereft of real danger or challenge, do you feel greyed out? Do you want a dash of that danger red to feel "anxiety but in a good way," as Jason Segel's character Peter says?
He is certainly bored enough with enough time to spare (which is rare) to follow the strange instructions that pitch "The Jejune Institute" and its owner "Octavio Coleman Esquire" (Richard E. Grant) as the enemy out to steal his "Divine Nonchalance".
Given the state of the world and how most people are cooly in denial or cooly indifferent, there is a surfeit of that nonchalance going around, divine or otherwise. And yet, the characters, Peter, Simone (Eve Lindley), Janice (Sally Field), and Fredwyn (Andre Benjamin), all archetypical stand-ins for the show's audience, have to be told that their state of bored numbness makes them all, contrary to all common sense, rare and special individuals.
While following instructions on what seems like an extended scavenger hunt with activities, Peter is "matched" with Simone -- the wild child ingenue, Janice -- the older woman who looks lonely and in need of excitement and company, and Fredwyn, a conspiracy theorist who is chasing non-existent shadows and intrigues to the point of ignoring the world around him. Each is divorced from the "magic" of the world that their adventures together are supposed to reveal to them.
Peter wants to believe in the magic wholeheartedly, Simone thinks its some sort game for an ad campaign, Fredwyn thinks its a "high-level social experiment" by the government, while Janice thinks it is just an elaborate prank -- one that she is happy to participate in because it breaks her social isolation. None of them seems to be grateful for what they already have in their lives but are looking for novelty, that frisson of excitement that will make them see the world in a new way.
Most of us chase that feeling by trying to fall in love, going on holiday or, at a pinch, trying a new exotic exercise regime, drug or cuisine. In short, the characters' motivations are what bottled New Year's desperation smells like when people hunt for instant "makeovers" for their lives. What else can you do when you realize you have lived another year with nothing significant to show for it?
The creator and writer of 'Dispatches from Elsewhere' seem to be pedaling the snake-oil "cure" for urban ennui, but we are not quite sure we are buying it. At all. As a writer, he is so bored with the character Peter he has created that he "spares" the audience a full introduction and settles for a short two-minute one. This is telling. If the creator finds the character he has created (which he also portrays) boring, why should we, as an audience, care?
There is also enough jejune behavior going around in the world to not have to watch a whole show based around it. If you need a Sasquatch dancing in the rain to reignite your passion for life, you might be having a crisis of privilege just like Jason Segel.
'Dispatches from Elsewhere' premiered on Sunday, March 1 on AMC. It will air its second episode Monday at 10 pm ET /9c on AMC.