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Brand New Cherry Flavor Review 2021 Tv Show Series Season Cast Crew
Creators: Nick Antosca, Lenore Zion
Stars: Rosa Salazar, Mark Acheson, Daniel Doheny
Netflix’s new horror-satire Brand New Cherry Flavor may be the best showcase yet for Salazar and her ability to carry a project that, with a different lead, would have collapsed under the weight of its self-conscious weirdness. She’s funny, sympathetic and possessed of an off-kilter energy that represents the best aspects of the limited series around her. She isn’t the only reason to watch Brand New Cherry Flavor, but she’s surely the best reason to keep watching a show that, stretched far beyond the capacity of the material at eight hours, will probably be too disturbing for those who like their entertainment vanilla and too vanilla for those who like their entertainment truly and consistently disturbing.
On the surface, Brand New Cherry Flavor is a familiar fresh-off-the-bus story about Hollywood and its capacity to devour the dreams of the innocent. Lisa Nova (Salazar) isn’t all that innocent, though.
The writer-director of a student film generating buzz for a harrowing climactic sequence nobody can quite bring themselves to discuss, Lisa arrives in Hollywood with hopes of a big break. In no time, she has a meeting with a producer (Eric Lange’s Lou Burke) with Oscars on his mantel, but no recent successes to speak of. At a speed that astounds her friends, including Manny Jacinto’s Code and Hannah Levien’s Christine, Lisa has a movie deal and a decoratively dingy apartment in a classic Hollywood building and she’s even caught the attention of budding movie star Roy Hardaway (Jeff Ward). The happiness doesn’t last long, though, because Lisa is soon to learn that movie executives are sleazy, directors are replaceable and revenge pacts made with witches (Catherine Keener’s Boro) surrounded by a zombie harem come with unintended consequences.
What follows features unqualified hitmen, rainforest spirits, a wide variety of natural and unnatural hallucinogens, blood magic, sex magic and kittens. Netflix doesn’t want me to say anything more about the kittens, so I definitely won’t mention that kittens are integral to the plot.
It’s a less paranoid version of The Day of the Locust, a less surreal version of Mulholland Drive, a less horny version of Now Apocalypse, a less glisteningly leering version of Neon Demon and a less deranged version of several David Cronenberg movies, and that’s without getting to more comparable, less genre-fueled yarns. Hollywood likes Hollywood, and nothing is more Hollywood than a meditation on transformation and identity — not that Brand New Cherry Flavor is all that meditative, what with the zombies, kittens and other diabolical doses of nightmare-fuel.
Adapted by Nick Antosca and Lenore Zion from Todd Grimson’s 1996 cult novel, Brand New Cherry Flavor was presumably made for TV because everything is easier to adapt for TV at the moment, though it maintains an “early ’90s” time period that prevents it from ultimately having all that much to say about the contemporary entertainment industry (or its ’90s equivalent, really). There are #MeToo underpinnings in the predatory relationships Liz has with various industry men, though if the series has an actual perspective on several years of reckoning and the dangers of retaliation, it’s somewhere between “muddled” and “strange in ways I was uncomfortable with and therefore stopped trying to analyze.” Brand New Cherry Flavor is a cautionary tale, but not one you want to probe too deeply into, which is ironic because there’s ample probing going on.
The team of directors, starting with Arkasha Stevenson, establishes a level of neon-tinted, noir-adjacent polish throughout, fixating on the pulsing, luminous veins of the L.A. freeways at nighttime, the shabby-chic architecture appropriating from a web of transplanted cultures, the eateries and industry haunts connected to a local past nobody remembers. There’s room for flourishes aplenty, whether it’s frequent use of blood-red filters, severe camera angles or anything used to depict psychedelic disorientation.
What’s odd here, other than the kittens, is that no matter how much time characters in Brand New Cherry Flavor spend tripping balls, the overall series is predominantly linear and almost formulaic in its bizarreness. This is not experimental TV, and even if nearly every episode unleashes one or two moments likely to make you cringe or cover your eyes, it’s never hard to understand the plot and the slippage between reality and delirium is very straightforward.
Not everything Lynchian aspires to be utterly oblique and not everything Cronenbergian aspires to a complete body horror miasma, but it’s striking how Brand New Cherry Flavor achieves beats that are “weird” or “gross” without ever being pervasively unsettling. The most obvious culprit is simply that there’s not enough meat on these bones — “meat” and “bones” play a not insignificant role — for an eight-episode season length and the series ends up packed with filler that’s constantly diffusing whatever should have been cumulative.
Part of that lack of gawking horror, to the show’s credit, is a mirror on Lisa’s reaction to everything happening around her. The character is determined, to a myopic degree, to make it big and if that requires ending or ruining a few lives in the progress, that’s what she signed on for.
It’s an arc that Salazar plays masterfully, from the relative naif of the pilot to the delusion spiral of the second episode to Liza’s increasingly matter-of-fact acceptance of the chaos she set in motion. She’s a wide-eye ingenue and a femme fatale at once. Salazar’s varied deadpan is a marvel, especially in scenes with Jacinto, another expert practitioner of the deadpan arts. Any time Salazar feels too dry or sardonic, she’s able to show a real fierceness that comes out in her scenes with Keener, who opts for an underplayed amusement with everything happening around her — which, given the things Boro has to do here, was probably a good choice.
The supporting turns are all pretty solid, which might be the only advantage I’d acknowledge to this story not being told in a more appropriate four (or even two) hours. Lange does well with a character who begins the series falling apart professionally and eventually begins to fall apart in other ways, though I wish the character was more than just a Hollywood executive composite. Ward gives one of those Lynch-standard performances where you’re not sure if what the actor is doing is “great,” but it feels like exactly what the project’s tone demands. The same is true for newcomer Siena Werber as the star of Liza’s original film, who enters the story in its second half and is suddenly stealing scenes left and right.
Will Brand New Cherry Flavor be Salazar’s true breakout? I think the series’ dramatic padding, its lack of real horrifying momentum and some of its grosser standalone elements may limit it to being a curio. Still, for those who stick through the show, it’s another reminder that there aren’t many young actors making more interesting choices.