The Man sits at the end booth of a lonely roadside diner. A waitress watches curiously as person after person comes to sit opposite him and talk – is he a journalist conducting interviews? A therapist? The truth is, the Man makes Faustian deals with these people. They tell him something they want – for their husband’s Alzheimer’s to be cured, for the girl from a magazine centerfold to love them, etc. – and he gives them a task in return for that happening – from fathering a child to setting off a bomb in a restaurant. The only other condition is that they return to the diner regularly to update him on the details.
That’s the idea behind The Booth at the End, a show that may have passed over your radar when it first aired in 2010, followed by a second season in 2012 – but both seasons are now available as one DVD set. Sure, the concept may seem strikingly minimalist in a post-Breaking Bad TV landscape, in which we expect our shows to be blockbuster epics; this is exactly the opposite, as each season has just one set, with the stories playing out entirely over the diner table.
And yet these dialogues are remarkably compelling; Xander Berkeley’s Man interrogates his visitors with laid back sincerity, refusing to give direct help but guiding them into analysing their own flaws and desires, and the show invites us to take the same inquiring attitude. As their stories develop, it’s fascinating to learn what makes these characters tick and how far they’d go to get what they want, and to see their tasks progress and even intertwine; the first season’s strongest story sees one man tasked to kill a little girl, and another man tasked to protect the same girl, which results in some truly gripping viewing – even though we never see any of it happen!
The second season doesn’t have quite the thrill of the first, as some storylines fail to escalate as excitingly as they should, leaving you feeling like little’s happened by the time you get to the final episode. It does, however, give us some insight into the Man himself, leading to a very touching moment at the conclusion to a story about a woman who just wants to feel loved. Plus, even when some stories drag, there are more hits than misses and the pace of the series keeps it watchable; each season is comprised of five twenty-two minute episodes, so you can easily binge the whole thing in one night.
The Booth at the End may seem like the antithesis of Game of Thrones, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing; this sharply scripted series of interchanges shows that you don’t need a record-breaking budget to make a show that’s both intellectually and emotionally engaging.
THE BOOTH AT THE END: SERIES 1 AND 2 / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: JESSICA LANDAW, ADAM ARKIN / SCREENPLAY: CHRISTOPHER KUBASIK / STARRING: XANDER BERKELEY, JENNI BLONG, JENNIFER DEL ROSARIO / RELEASE DATE: JULY 11TH