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Dispatches from Elsewhere Review 2020 Tv Show Series Season Cast Crew Online
Creator: Jason Segel
Stars: André Benjamin, Sally Field, Richard E. Grant
Jason Segel’s weird and weirdly charming show plunges four characters into a scavenger hunt full of elaborate clues and borderline magic, presided over by a wolfish Richard E Grant
Isn’t Richard E Grant a strange actor? I mean that in the best possible way. How can you have wolfish warmth? But he does. How can you have unsettling charm? But he does. How can you suggest an ironic detachment from everything you do and yet wholly convince in whatever part you are playing? And yet he does.
Here, in the new 10-part drama Dispatches from Elsewhere (AMC UK), his contradictory strengths are on display and put to tremendously good use. We open with him – just him, against a smoky orange background – staring silently at us for 22 seconds (a televisual eternity) before he announces, smiling: “And now that I have your attention, I’ll begin.”
What follows can only be described as a wild ride. Possibly too wild, but we will get to that because for the first episode at least it is a pure, refreshing joy. Grant is Octavio Coleman, Esq, the head of the Jejune Institute, purveyor of products called Nonchalance, Poliwater and The Idea (patent pending), all designed to fill the void in humanity’s heart and soul. He introduces us to this episode’s main protagonist, Peter (Jason Segel, who created, wrote, directed and executive-produced this – as you might imagine – highly idiosyncratic series). “Think of him,” says Octavio, because we are meta as well as idiosyncratic here, “as you.”
Peter, a data-collecting, office-working everyman, notices a strange series of flyers on his commute and eventually rings the number given. The Jejune Institute picks up, invites him in and soon Octavio is explaining to our not-quite-hero that the institute’s true mission is – well, to be honest, like Peter I am not quite sure what it is. But it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that Peter and the equally hapless viewer find themselves alerted to the nefarious intent of the institute by a mysterious entity known as the Elsewhere Society (led by a mysterious and as yet unseen Scotsman calling himself Commander 14, who may or may not sound uncannily like Grant doing a Scottish accent). They are plunged into a world of elaborate clues and borderline magic in order to find a woman named Clara and reveal to mankind that – well, again, I’m not quite sure, but it is something to do with Divine Nonchalance rather than Octavio’s snake oil.
Along the way – which is best described as a mashup of Alice in Wonderland, The Phantom Tollbooth and Twin Peaks, with just a hint of Pushing Daisies – he joins forces with three other characters, upon whom the next three episodes will focus in turn. Simone (Eve Lindley) believes they are taking part in a huge game, probably some kind of advertising campaign; Janice (Sally Field) is an empty-nester glad of some fun and problem solving to fill up her days; and Fredwynn (André Benjamin, AKA Outkast’s André 3000) is an obsessive conspiracy theorist better with patterns than people, who believes they have stumbled on a secret social experiment by the government. Peter thinks it might just be real.
They are all people searching for meaning in their lives, and the difficulty and importance of connecting with others is the show’s abiding theme. Octavio is the big bad because he plots to keep people apart and prevent the better society they could have coming to fruition; and the greatest strength of the series is the timid, slow-growing, wholly convincing romance between Peter and Eve, who is still trying to find her new place in the world as a trans woman.
The greatest flaw of the series, ironically, is that the ever-more complicated scavenger hunt they embark upon threatens to pull focus and fracture the whole thing. A lot happens, but as setpieces rather than as a unifying force or plot driver: Bigfoot turns up as a clue-courier; Clara speaks to Simone and Peter through a Billy Bass; tokens that unlock the door to the Elsewhere Society’s steampunk headquarters are passed over in change at an unremarkable cornershop; and animated films (powered by Peter pedalling madly on a stationary bike) give snippets of backstory, but often repetitively and/or to no other end than to get us to the next clue. At times it feels like you are pedalling that bike yourself.
But it’s got heart and charm and it is quite clearly and endearingly the result of one man’s sensibility and vision. If it keeps its focus on what we really want to invest in and doesn’t slide fully into whimsical nonsense, then there will be every reason to stay.
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