Empire (UK) - - ON.SCREEN -

CRE­ATOR Lisa Ru­bin CAST Naomi Watts, Billy Crudup, So­phie Cook­son, Lucy Boyn­ton, Karl Glus­man, Me­lanie Liburd

PLOT A psy­chi­a­trist (Watts) with an ap­par­ently per­fect life puts ev­ery­thing at risk by pry­ing into the lives of her pa­tients out­side their ses­sions. Meet­ing one pa­tient’s ex-girl­friend sparks an af­fair that looks cer­tain to ruin many lives.

NET­FLIX’S NEW­EST DRAMA, a sadly missed op­por­tu­nity that takes juicy in­gre­di­ents but dries them all out, is the story of Jean (Watts), a ter­ri­ble but suc­cess­ful Man­hat­tan psy­chi­a­trist. Jean has a hand­ful of pa­tients with whom she makes lit­tle progress, for which she blames them, but makes enough money that she can “take morn­ings off half the week”. At home she has a hand­some lawyer hus­band (Crudup) and a daugh­ter who is show­ing clear signs of gen­der-non­con­for­mity (the daugh­ter is com­fort­able with this; Jean is very much not). Jean is bored.

An un­di­ag­nosed so­ciopath, Jean amuses her­self by delv­ing into the lives of her pa­tients out­side of­fice hours. She finds the peo­ple they dis­cuss and be­friends them, call­ing her­self Diane to avoid de­tec­tion, then uses the knowl­edge she gains to ma­nip­u­late ev­ery­one. In par­tic­u­lar, she fix­ates on Syd­ney (So­phie Cook­son), one pa­tient’s gener­i­cally ‘edgy’ ex-girl­friend (barista, sings in a band, knows her bour­bon). Jean and Syd­ney be­gin a flir­ta­tion that be­comes a mu­tual ob­ses­sion. If any one of Jean’s lies is ex­posed, her whole life would crum­ble. If only one of them would dis­lodge a lit­tle quicker.

The bones of the show are good, with a premise that prom­ises plenty of scan­dal and in­trigue. No­body could be bet­ter cast than Naomi Watts as a woman crowd­ing mul­ti­ple per­sonas in one head. Yet it’s all too dull, a show that wants to glide mys­te­ri­ously when it should race madly. The na­ture of Net­flix’s binge model is sup­posed to give cre­atives the op­por­tu­nity to let a story breathe and not worry about cheap hooks to get an au­di­ence tun­ing in next week.

Gypsy is an ex­am­ple of how this can be a neg­a­tive. It pinches out plot at such a lethar­gic rate that there’s lit­tle rea­son to stick with Jean as she drifts in and out of the or­bit of hor­ri­ble Syd­ney. For a show billed as a psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller it is very low on thrills — twists are dropped at the end of a few episodes but left to go slack in the next — and pretty ba­sic in its psy­chol­ogy.

There’s not a lot to un­lock about its char­ac­ters. The ob­ject of Jean’s ob­ses­sion al­most im­me­di­ately re­veals she has daddy is­sues. Jean clashes with her mother (Blythe Dan­ner) who is the selfish at­ten­tion hog Jean in­sists she doesn’t want to be but is clearly be­com­ing. When Jean meets her hus­band’s ex­tremely beau­ti­ful as­sis­tant she asks him not to have an af­fair with her be­cause “you’d be mak­ing me part of a cliché”. He starts flirt­ing al­most im­me­di­ately with this woman who is much younger than him and at­tends to him in a way his in­creas­ingly ab­sent wife does not. It’s all day one, les­son one shrink stuff. Per­haps it’s a state­ment on how un­com­pli­cated peo­ple ac­tu­ally are, that those clichés are clichés for a rea­son, but it makes for dreary, pre­dictable nar­ra­tive.

The ob­vi­ous­ness of Gypsy’s plot­ting might not be an is­sue if the show had a dif­fer­ent im­age of it­self. As lurid, soapy, psy­cho­sex­ual trash it might work, but that doesn’t seem to be what any­one in­volved is try­ing to make. Gypsy has the clean glam­our and ver­bose scenes of pres­tige drama. It re­jects its own ab­sur­dity. Sam Tay­lor­john­son di­rects the es­tab­lish­ing episodes and gives it plenty of gloss, but none of the wink she gave to Fifty Shades Of Grey, a project with sim­i­larly daft psy­chol­ogy, but at least it knew it. There are flashes of the show this could have been. Jean and col­leagues sit­ting around a ta­ble bitch­ing about pa­tients and dis­cussing them as com­modi­ties is some­thing you want to eaves­drop on more. Jean’s re­la­tion­ship with her daugh­ter throws up a dif­fi­cult bat­tle be­tween the mum who wants to sup­port her child but also wishes she were like ev­ery­one else. Yet these are brushed past to fo­cus on the bland af­fair. Be­neath all the de­cep­tions and scan­dals, Jean is hid­ing a deeper se­cret: she’s just not in­ter­est­ing. OLLY RICHARDS VERDICT This should have been Watts’ Big Lit­tle Lies, a project that al­lowed her hours to pull a com­pli­cated char­ac­ter to bits. In­stead it gives her far too long to try to stick one to­gether.

Red spells dan­ger.

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