REVIEWED: SEASON 1 (EPISODES 1-2) | WHERE TO WATCH: YOUTUBE PREMIUM
As if you weren’t already juggling enough monthly payments to streaming services, YouTube now produce their own scripted shows. The latest is this sci-fi comedy series, created by Get Out director Jordan Peele and his Key & Peele co-writer Charlie Sanders. You can stream the first two episodes for free, then have to pay up for YouTube Premium for the other four.
An anthology series, each 25-minute episode follows a different character in the near-future city of Weird, which has been segregated into two halves: Above the Line, where the Haves live, and Below the Line, populated by Have-Nots.
The first episode, The One, sees Dylan O’Brien’s Stu sign up to a dating service that claims to find perfect matches. He’s expecting to be paired with a woman his age, but is surprised when his ‘One’ turns out to be an older man, Ed O’Neill’s Burt. The story leans dangerously towards making fun of same-sex pairings for a moment, but pulls away from that precipice to give us a romance that could actually be quite sweet if only the characters were more believably written – they become rather too perfect for each other. On the comedy side, there’s one very good editing joke but mostly the story’s too rushed to allow the humour to land. The most bizarre choice here, though, was to start the series with a story that, particularly given later twists, feels very reminiscent of Black Mirror episode Hang the DJ, a comparison it inevitably can’t live up to.
Episode 2, A Family, stars Michael Cera as serial loser Tawny, who, kicked out of his addiction support group and his job, signs up to a gym named ShapeCult. Personal trainer Delt (Rosario Dawson) becomes increasingly agitated by his approval-seeking behaviour, and his obsession with worms, leading to a gruesome conclusion. If there’s one word to describe this episode, it’s ‘annoying’. Cera is usually a good choice to play loser characters, as he makes them real enough for us to laugh at or with them, but here we do neither. The episode spends half its running time hammering home the point that he’s a sociopath with a Muppet’s level of clumsiness – there’s an irrelevant scene devoted to him dropping an ice cream – without making any attempt at emotional connection.
That failure to connect characterises both of these disappointing episodes. The first tries to cram a whole Black Mirror episode in, and the second feels like a tediously drawn out sketch, but both make the critical mistake of not taking their characters seriously enough for us to care. This feels like Adam Sandler tried to parody Black Mirror without understanding anything that worked about it. It’s sci-fi comedy with unoriginal sci-fi concepts and very few laughs. Even more oddly, neither story makes substantial use of the Above/Below the Line divide, so these episodes do little to justify the series’ concept.
The main thing Weird City has going for it is a star-studded cast. This continues throughout the remaining episodes, which include: Laverne Cox as part of a couple whose Smart House, voiced by Mark Hamilll, turns nightmarish; Gillian Jacobs and Steven Yeun as Above-the-Liners who decide to sponsor an impoverished child by kidnapping him; and Awkwafina and Yvette Nicole Brown as criminals who discover they’re really actors on a TV show. After the dire first two episodes, however, it doesn’t seem worth going above the line of YouTube’s paywall to see more.