Throw a stone just about anywhere right now and it’s likely you’ll hit a new TV series on Netflix. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it certainly seems like more and more original content is being put out by this popular streaming service. On one hand, this is great news, but on the other, is every series really worth its salt? Do we need another series about 20/30/40-somethings having first world problems? Joe Swanberg‘s comedy-drama anthology Easy tests this question quite fittingly.
Set in the bustling city of Chicago and boasting the feel of an Indie series sprinkled with some name actors (such as Orlando Bloom and Dave Franco), the very loosely-connected 8 episodes of Easy feel like snapshots from Lena Dunham’s Girls, as it weaves together various modern-day tales of love, sex and relationships. Contemporary issues, from Tinder threesomes to selfie stick art, are often addressed with a dousing of millennial speak.
Despite the obvious present-day feel of Easy, much of the themes and ideas about love and angst are universal. For example, there is the husband and wife who are trying to re-ignite the passion in their relationship (with a bit of good ol’ fashioned role-play) or the young husband and soon-to-be father longing for his freer days (so he starts an illegal brewery with his brother). We have encountered these broad ideas before, but there is something about them being packaged together with naturalistic dialogue and understated settings that still make it work (how many more times, however, is another issue).
There are some standout moments and episodes as well. Chemistry Read introduces a young and recently-single actress (the talented Gugu Mbatha-Raw) poised and excited to enjoy her life unshackled, contrasted with her older colleague (deftly played by Jane Adams), whose melancholy about a lack of a better half is devastatingly clear, albeit unsaid. Showing their experiences side by side is skilfully done in a measured, gentle and poignant way. In another memorable episode, Utopia, the lightest of the episodes and the only one with a clearly positive ending, a husband and wife (Bloom and Malin Åkerman) try to make up for their lack of online dating experience by setting up a joint Tinder profile and frolicking in a fairly vivid ménage à trois for a good portion of the episode.
While these snapshots of colourful lives give plenty of opportunity for the audience to relate and feel for the characters, not every episode is a hit. Some suffer from the common problem of compressed stories: the slight feeling of ‘so what?’ by the end of it. The fact that there are many series that address “modern-day life” makes it even more imperative for a new series, such as Easy, to give everyday issues a fresh take, and Swanberg doesn’t always deliver.
Don’t expect neat Hollywood endings, clear messages, or sunny escapism either, with the MO of Easy to be slightly bleak and almost depressing at times. In the final episode of the series, for example, Franco’s character gushes about his sheer contentment with his cramped apartment, little garage brewery and relaxed coffee shop job — in contrast to his stiff older brother, who is stuck in the typical white collar rut. Suffice it to say, the episode doesn’t end in ideal fashion for our characters. The final shot of blank stares and morose looks sums up the episode, and perhaps even the series as well: things don’t always go as planned.
As a look into modern-day relationships, Easy offers an assortment of nuanced stories, everyday characters and sometimes-uncomfortable food for thought. If you want a happy ending and hopeful take-away buzz, Easy is probably not for you (don’t worry, we expect Netflix to come up with something like that next year). But for those who don’t mind re-evaluating their current relationship status and life choices in general, the strong writing and performances in Easy may just hit the spot.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10