Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 20, 2020)
A mix of drama, quirky comedy and mystery, we go to AMC’s Dispatches From Elsewhere. This three-Blu-ray set packs all 10 of Season One’s episodes. The plot synopses come from the AMC website.
Peter: “Peter (Jason Segel) is stuck in the everyday routine of his mundane life until the day he meets a group of strangers who all have something in common and together they begin an adventure into a world that has been hidden all around them.”
Elsewhere wastes no time in terms of its Statement of Intentions. The very first scene starts with a silent narrator (Richard E. Grant) as he simply stares at the camera for 24 seconds.
When he speaks, he directly addresses the audience and acknowledges awareness of genre conventions, with the promise to break these.
Which “Peter” clearly does – and clearly does in a self-conscious manner that wears thin quickly. Basically Michel Gondry lite – with some David Fincher as well - “Peter” feels like an active attempt at quirky weirdness that doesn’t pay off – at least for this episode. We’ll see if Elsewhere gets more compelling and less annoying as it proceeds.
Simone: “The game continues as Simone (Eve Lindley) and Peter follow the clues and explore the city. The gang discovers that the game runs deeper then they thought and they have to make an important choice.”
With “Simone”, Elsewhere starts to feel less obnoxiously weird and more like a traditional narrative – sort of. It still comes with oddball flights of fancy, but the characters come across as more concrete and less contrived. That makes it more effective than the pilot, so hopefully the series will continue to progress from here.
Janice: “While searching for Fredwynn (André Benjamin) at the Shareholders meeting, the gang has their first encounter with Octavio (Grant). Janice (Sally Field) explores her past.”
Given her age and matronly impression, Janice becomes the character whose backstory most naturally leans toward sentimentality, and this episode embraces some of that. However, it purses these elements in a clever manner that avoids too much mawkishness as it also helps move along the overall narrative.
Fredwynn: “Fredwynn takes matters into his own hands but he needs his teammates to move on. He searches for the next clue and asks the gang for help. They take it too far in their search for answers leading them somewhere unexpected.”
As the series’ most intense character, Fredwynn lacks natural charm, but Benjamin plays him with just enough wit to make sure he doesn’t turn unbearable. Add some good plot developments and this becomes a pretty satisfying show.
Clara: “The game begins to have a deeper impact on our team's lives in the real world. The mystery of Clara's (Cecilia Balagot) disappearance deepens as the gang learns the full story. Fresh clues take the game in a new direction.”
The mysterious Clara gets some backstory here, and we also see the evolution of our main team in small dollops. This feels like a heavily expository show, and that can make it a little clunky, but it provides necessary information.
Everyone: “With time running out, the gang splits up in an effort to find Clara. Simone and Janice follow her artwork, while Fredwynn and Peter link the game to a large corporation.”
With “Everyone”, we get less exposition as usual, and that allows the main narrative to come to life in a more vivid way than has proven true so far. Throw in some much-needed comedy and this turns into a solid show.
Cave of Kelpius: “The Milkman (Joe Forbrich) leads the gang underground. The players come together while Peter and Simone grapple with their feelings for each other. Janice meets someone who gives her an unexpected clue.”
Though “Cave” seems to wrap up the series’ game, we all can figure out that won’t prove accurate – not with three more episodes to go. Most of “Cave” focuses on character dynamics, and those help it flesh out the roles while it also pursues the arc that’ll carry the rest of the season.
Lee: “The gang reflects on their experiences. Peter and Simone go on their first date together and Janice faces an unexpected decision. Fredwynn is convinced there is more to the story.”
Though ostensibly about the game, it long ago became clear that the show more wanted to reveal the bonds among its characters. “Lee” moves along the overall narrative well while it also expands the main roles.
The Creator: “Simone, Peter, and Janice explore new interests, while Fredwynn finds it hard to let go.”
With only one more episode to go after this, “Creator” also pursues the main story, but it continues the trend toward greater focus on the lead characters. It adds meaningful moments and turns into an effective episode.
The Boy: “A final mystery is solved.”
With a show as self-referential and complex as Dispatches, it becomes difficult to stick the landing and finish on a satisfying note. Tremendously meta and solipsistic, “Boy” ends the series on a sappy, absurd note that doesn’t work.
This misfire disappoints, though I admit it doesn’t surprise, simply because a series as convoluted as Dispatches lacked a natural, logical conclusion. I wish the producers had found something less gooey and New Agey than this, though, as the prior nine episodes were mostly good.