'Dispatches from Elsewhere' Premiere Review: Richard E Grant's intro saves Jason Segel's otherwise dim pilot
Spoiler alert for 'Dispatches from Elsewhere' Episode 1: 'Peter'
For a show that's supposed to mark Jason Segel's big TV comeback since the culmination of his cuddly bear Marshall in 'How I Met Your Mother', 'Dispatches from Elsewhere' actually contributes very little to that expectation. Labeled an anthology, the AMC production created by Segel himself introduces to us four random strangers whose worlds collide on a scavenger hunt they embark upon, separately, a quest to seek the great beyond.
But as it meanders through the signature twists and tropes of experimental TV, the pilot - ambitious no doubt, fizzles, apart from the 82-second long introduction right at the beginning of the episode, offered by Richard E Grant's eerie illainous aura as the big bad 'Octavio'.
Segel's deadpan corporate employee Peter's pretty much sorted life with a decent job is once again presented as the emblem of all things mundane that are holding him back for something bigger than life in this dimension. When Peter chances upon the game that is supposed to change lives, he comes across the spirited trans-woman - Simone, the suspicious conspiracy theorist Fredwyn, and a lively, slightly older Janice who is the only thing breathing that element of fresh throughout the first four episodes of the show at least.
The pilot kicks off with Grant staring back at the viewer from a burnt orange background; his piercing gaze is reminiscent of every all-powerful dreaded character we have come across on TV but there's something uncannily alarming about the calmness of the first 23 seconds as he introduces us to the concept of the game the characters are about to play, but there's no hard an fast rule in Octavio's world of fun and chaos.
He is willing to allow us the chance to escape the introduction through a done and dusted dreary routine of highlighting the pathos in the a relatively priviledged white male lead's life, and jump directly into the game we were lured in by. But that doesn't stop him from pointing out Peter's supposed tribulations as he writes algorithms for a music-streaming service and suddenly things take a rather satirical turn, entertaining in copious amounts.
Following Grant's eerie intro, things pretty much fall into place the way it would in your regular 'Fight Club' meets 'Now You See Me' vibe where the pilot tries to exhibit the thrill of the latter but doesn't quite succeed. As we are trasported through the monotonous humdrum of Peter's life, the episode simultaneously tries to establish the relevance of the real-life phenomenon that the series borrowed its plot from.
Spencer McCall's 2013 documentary 'The Institute' follows an "alternate reality game" that was able to send oer 10,000 players on a scavenger hunt quest all oer San Fransisco, between 2008 and 2011. These participants had no clue what they were venturing into, but the mindbending quest orchestrated by Oakland-based artist Jeff Hull involved self-help speech and pseudoscientific imagery to draw in people looking for a greater beyond, perhaps.
But the significantly different Philadelphia setting of 'Dispatches from Elsewhere' isn't the only aspect where they digress from the original concept, nighther the show's biggest flaw in terms of its pilot at least. The biggest disappointment at the moment lies with Segel's Peter who tries too hard to be Jack, the Narrator from 'Fight Club' but instead ends up being a more nihilistic version of his Marshall from the CBS sitcom. Lukily, for all the drawbacks in Peter as a character, there is Sally Field's veteran charm as Janice to look forward too.
And of course, newcomer Eve Lindley charismatic avatar as Simone makes sitting through almost-hour-long premiere a treat in parts.
Even Andre 3000's curious skeptic Fredwyn's constant suspicions over the game being a dstraction from something far more insidious manages to rope in curiosity for future eisodes amidst an otherwise bleak narrative at the get go. It is however Grant's Octavio that might keep viewers hooked because the portrayal is just a gift that keeps giving, the same way the real life scavenger hunt was to people tired of the mundane spirals of life.
With stimulating imagery and vintage sci-fi, the pilot sets out its claims of being different into the void, but at the end of the day there's only so much in so many ways that one can present cliched regulars of humanity, so at this point, we just have to leave things with the only-time-will-tell remark.
'Dispatches from Elsewhere' premieres on Sunday, March 1, at 10 PM only on AMC. The show will air on Tuesdays, same time and network, from the second episode onwards.