Bizarre Things Are Happening in Duplass Brothers’ New HBO Anthology Series ‘Room 104’
Duplass brothers, Jay and Mark, get into the ever popular television anthology game with their clever, genre-bending HBO series, “Room 104.” The episodic anthology series centers around a commercialized American motel room, with each episode focusing on the new characters that inhabit it.
As a whole, the series doesn’t conform to one particular genre, nor does it contain any recurring themes. Each episode is truly its own self-contained story. The only continuity that runs throughout every episode is the motel room setting, which manages to get a slight makeover from time to time, suggesting that all of the episodes might take place during different timeframes. Elements of comedy, horror, mystery and drama all peek through at one point or another. But don’t expect them to play out to typical genre archetypes.
Of the assorted characters who visit the eponymous room throughout the 12 self-contained episodes, a babysitter (Davie-Blue) watching over a dangerous young boy in the first episode holds the most mystery. An elderly couple (Philip Baker Hall and Ellen Geer) revisiting their romance in episode 12 remains the most emotional, and will likely tug on the viewers’ heart strings.
Those most familiar with the Duplass style of dramedy will be drawn to episode five, which refreshingly travels back in time to 1997, giving the familiar motel room setting a different look. The episode follows a son (Karen Soni) trying to explain to his mother how the internet works over the course of a frustrating phone call. His step-by-step directions play out in a rather comical and relatable way to any young person with technologically “disadvantaged” parents. But following an emotional revelation, the episode takes a rather dramatic turn that pinches at human interaction and creative self-doubt.
The weirdest episode, by far, follows a transcendental cult leader (Orlando Jones) aiding a woman desperate to reach her inner peace. Guided by instructional videos hosted by Tony Todd, the duo works in sync to help her reach a “higher level.” But as the episode runs on, the inner-truths she begins to unlock offer up violent repercussions. Striking editing and the bizarre storyline make the episode stand out. If one thing is for certain, this show isn’t afraid to be different, and, at times, a bit bizarre.
On the other hand, an episode featuring a snoopy housekeeper (Dendrie Taylor) turns into an avant-garde dance presentation featuring striking aesthetics and dazzling cinematography.
As is the case with most episodic anthology series, some stories play more intriguing than others. One of the lesser of the bunch involves a pro-wrestling duo (Keta Meggett and Natalie Morgan) working to perfect their craft. Amongst the strange, emotional and bizarre catalog “Room 104” offers, this story doesn’t exactly stick out.
The 30-minute episodes run by rather fast, making them delectable brief watches. However, the short runtime does come at a cost, leaving some stories to end on a rather abrupt, and in some cases, premature note. But this doesn’t make the buildup any less enjoyable.
The dimly lit, double-bed room serves as the perfect stage for a broad range of meet-ups, macabre happenings and unfortunate experiences. Those familiar with the Duplass brothers’ brand of quirk will be pleased. With plenty of different stories, the viewer will remain intrigued by who (or what) could enter “Room 104” next.
“Room 104” premieres on HBO July 28 and airs Fridays at 11:30 p.m. ET.