Room 104 of­fers new look at an­thol­ogy for­mat

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - RICK BENT­LEY

An­thol­ogy tele­vi­sion se­ries can ei­ther be many dif­fer­ent sto­ries with one dis­tinct tone fea­tured in each episode of sea­son (“Twi­light Zone,” “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”) or a dif­fer­ent story us­ing a set tone that cov­ers one full year of pro­gram­ming (“Amer­i­can Crime,” “Amer­i­can Hor­ror Story”). While the struc­ture may vary and the play­ers change, an­thol­ogy se­ries tend to take on a dis­tinct tone through­out their run.

That was be­fore “Room 104” came along.

The HBO an­thol­ogy se­ries has a fa­mil­iar struc­ture when it comes to dif­fer­ent play­ers and sto­ries in each episode, but it tosses out the con­ven­tional ap­proach of a sim­i­lar tone for the run of the se­ries. One week the tale could be deeply dra­matic, the next a full com­edy. This is the work of Mark and Jay Du­plass, who bring their pur­posely re­bel­lious ap­proach to the cre­ative process to make “Room 104” an orig­i­nal look at a very fa­mil­iar genre.

“Room 104” is a widely dif­fer­ent col­lec­tion of sto­ries linked to­gether by a sin­gle lo­ca­tion. Each tale un­folds in a ho­tel room that changes only slightly to re­flect the pe­riod in which the story un­folds. In that way, the TV se­ries plays more like a stage pro­duc­tion with a dif­fer­ent cast each week strut­ting and fret­ting through their tale.

That cast in­cludes Hugo Arm­strong, Davie-Blue, Melonie Diaz, Jay Du­plass, Philip Baker Hall, Sarah Hay, Poorna Ja­gan­nathan, Or­lando Jones, Ethan and Gavin Kent, Amy Lan­decker, Kon­stantin Lavysh, Sameerah Luq­maan-Har­ris, Keta Meggett, Natalie Mor­gan, Ross Par­tridge, Karan Soni, Den­drie Tay­lor, James Van Der Beek, and Mae Whit­man.

The broth­ers of­fer the same slightly slanted look at life they have used in more than 20 movies in­clud­ing “Jeff, Who Lives at Home,” “The Puffy Chair” and “Tan­ger­ine.” Their ap­proach is to take what’s con­sid­ered to be mun­dane and of­fer a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive to in­duce fear, laugh­ter or tears.

In “Ral­phie,” the open­ing episode of “Room 104,” writ­ten by Mark Du­plass and di­rected by Sarah Ad­ina Smith, the tone starts out like any episode of a hor­ror an­thol­ogy. A babysit­ter (Melonie Diaz) ac­cepts a job watch­ing a boy named Ralph (Ethan Kent) while the father is out for the evening. The evening takes a turn for the weird when the boy tells the babysit­ter that his brother “Ral­phie” is locked in the bath­room and not al­lowed out be­cause of his vi­o­lent ten­den­cies.

As the evening un­folds, the twist in the story is whether or not the evil twin is real or the cre­ation of some­one’s over­ac­tive imag­i­na­tion.

Com­pare that to the sixth episode, “Voyeurs,” writ­ten and di­rected by Dayna Han­son, where the story is told through a ma­cabre dance of life. A house­keeper (Den­drie Tay­lor) re­dis­cov­ers her­self in the items left for her to clean. Each hid­den mem­ory un­locks more and more of her younger self who even­tu­ally be­comes her dance part­ner in a beau­ti­fully staged bal­let.

The episode is so rich be­cause of the se­lec­tion of Han­son as the writer and di­rec­tor. Her back­ground as an ex­per­i­men­tal stage artist, film­maker and co-artis­tic di­rec­tor of the Seat­tle-based dance theatre com­pany 33 Faint­ing Spells brings a fresh­ness to the episode. Han­son’s not the typ­i­cal se­lec­tion for a di­rec­tor so her hir­ing is just an­other ex­am­ple of how the Du­plass broth­ers have taken the fa­mil­iar and breathed new life into it.

That also goes for the writ­ing. “Ral­phie” looks to be headed to­ward the fa­mil­iar twist of a tra­di­tional hor­ror se­ries, but in­stead of a twist there’s more a kink. It’s just odd enough to be in­ter­est­ing but not so strange as to be in the outer lim­its of sto­ry­telling.

The same goes for the third episode, “The Knock­adoo.” Un­der the veil of a tale of spir­i­tual ac­tiv­i­ties by a cult priest (Or­lando Jones), the script by Car­son Mell slowly be­gins to re­flect the deep psy­cho­log­i­cal prob­lems a woman (Sameerah Luq­maan-Har­ris) is har­bour­ing while seek­ing sal­va­tion. The real dark­ness is left open to a va­ri­ety of in­ter­pre­ta­tions.

The idea of set­ting the se­ries in a sin­gle ho­tel room is not to­tally unique as David Lynch’s “Ho­tel Room” was broad­cast by HBO in 1993. Where the Du­plass broth­ers bring their vi­sion to the project is in the way they don’t feel ob­li­gated to feed an au­di­ence ev­ery bit of in­for­ma­tion but ex­pect view­ers to be smart enough (or cu­ri­ous enough) to take the very com­pelling morsels and cre­ate their own fi­nal pic­ture.

If you pre­fer a more stan­dard ap­proach, there are al­ways re­runs of “The Twi­light Zone” play­ing some­where.


Melonie Diaz is the babysit­ter in the episode "Ral­phie" in “Room 104.”

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