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Length: 5 x episodes (25-35 minutes each)
The anthology series seems to be making a comeback at the moment. Once the near-exclusive domain of genre stories - The Twilight Zone, Creepshow, Black Mirror etc. - lately we’ve seen the one-and-done treatment given to love stories with Modern Love and now “bold and current” issues in The Premise.
The Premise comes to us from actor/writer BJ Novak (walking-red-flag Ryan from The Office) who not only wrote/co-wrote every episode, he also directed two of them and acts as a host of the show, introducing the, well, premise of the story to come.
Like a lot of anthology programs the result is a mixed bag, but when it hits it hits pretty damn hard. The misses, however, are unfortunate.
The Premise cherry picks issues of the day, almost feeling a ‘Best Of’ hits reel of topics that outraged twitter or became part of the public discourse.
“Social Justice Sex Tape” is the opener, and it has a great concept. When a white woke social justice ally (played by Ben Platt) realises he has evidence that a young black man has been falsely incarcerated, he finally has the chance to do the right thing.
The problem? Well, the evidence is in the background of what is quite possibly the worst sex tape every filmed. So ol’ mate has to decide how much he’s willing to give and if someone’s freedom is worth his own dignity.
It’s a funny idea, brimming with social commentary, but unfortunately the execution is too broad, too goofy, to really land. Swing and miss, BJ.
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s “Moment of Silence” which stars Jon Bernthal (Shane from The Walking Dead) as a father whose daughter died in a horrible shooting… and decides to work at the National Gun Lobby. Doing PR.
You know something is up with this episode, you intellectually understand there’s going to be some kind of twist, but Bernthal’s performance is so devastatingly convincing and the writing so sharp, that you can’t help but be on the edge of your seat.
“The Ballad of Jesse Wheeler” follows, which is a fun little piece about celebrity worship, and America’s discomfort with openly talking about sexuality, but other than some great central performances, it doesn’t make a huge impact.
“The Commenter” is a bit more meaty, telling the story of Allegra (Lola Kirke) with what appears to be a perfect life - fabulous job, great partner, awesome friends - who upends her entire existence when a random troll on Instagram starts calling her out for being fake.
It’s a solid rumination on the corrosive effect of fake, social media happiness and also a wry observation on why we often listen to the one negative voice, over believing the 99 positive ones.
However, the best of the bunch, by a pretty huge margin, is the fifth and final episode titled “Butt Plug”.
No, seriously. It’s really good.
“Butt Plug” (please stop laughing in the back) is the story of Eli (Eric Lange), a down on his luck bloke who needs financial help and wants to ask the billionaire who he went to school with, Daniel Jung (Daniel Dae Kim) for assistance.
The problem? Eli used to horribly bully Daniel and worries that he will still hold a grudge. But someone that successful couldn’t be that petty. Right?
Honestly, to disclose more would do a disservice to the best episode with an unlikely/eyebrow raising premise since Black Mirror’s “The National Anthem”. Just trust us, it’s great.
And so that’s The Premise, five short(ish) episodes of telly. Two are great, one is good and two a bit forgettable. It’s not a terrible ratio but nor is it an amazing one.
And in fact, “not terrible, not amazing” is a pretty neat way to describe The Premise overall. If you’re looking for the next evolution of the televised medium, look elsewhere.
However, if you’re keen for some wryly amusing, occasionally quite perceptive yarns that hit more than they miss, then perhaps it’s time you accept The Premise.
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