All right, guys, I’m calling it: Television is dead. Long live Netflix!
With Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life on the horizon, the streaming giant has given us an abundance of great programming, including Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, House of Cards and a veritable cornucopia of shows based on Marvel properties (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, the upcoming Iron Fist). Slipping under the radar near the end of September was another great albeit very adult show, Joe Swanberg’s Easy. Seriously, put the kids to bed before you watch it.
The eight-episode dramedy anthology series focuses on the sex lives and relationships of various Chicago denizens, their stories just barely intersecting with each other. I was hooked from the first episode, when a struggling playwright/actor (Michael Chernus) and his career-driven wife (Elizabeth Reaser) try to spice up their marriage with role playing. The husband, true to his craft, needs to know the motivation for why his character, a flannel-clad construction worker, is fixing a sink. It’s honestly a lot more hilarious than I’m describing it.
Aside from the humor, what I love most about Easy is the diversity of its cast. Finally, a show set in a major city where the entire cast isn’t white (I’m looking at you, Friends and How I Met Your Mother). There’s an entire episode in Spanish—complete with subtitles! Yes, most of the characters are still middle-class whites, but it’s a start, darn it. While I was watching the series, I kept wondering why a show like Easy has never been set in Pittsburgh. Maybe it’s because of the alleged lack of diversity here. Despite that, the setting has little bearing on any of the narratives; there’s no character struggling with a deep-dish pizza addiction who’s in denial about the Cubs.
It seems a serialized production is the perfect place for Swanberg’s talents to flourish. Also an actor and writer, Swanberg’s filmmaking style seems to favor actors to scripts, but not quite style over substance. His early films, like LOL and Nights and Weekends are mumblecore messes, but his three most recent films, which we have in our collection, show some serious growth.
Drinking Buddies (2013)
During a weekend away with their significant others, two brewery coworkers (Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde) realize that they might be better suited as a couple rather than as just friends. It’s messy and honest.
Happy Christmas (2014)
With the tagline, “Family is the gift that keeps on taking”, I think you know what you’re in for. Dysfunctionality at its finest. But it feels true.
Digging for Fire (2015)
This one, I admit, is my least favorite. Featuring Oscar-winner Brie Larson, the plot, in its barest sense boils down to: boys will be boys, girls will be girls. I guess … ? Maybe I just haven’t had the life experiences to relate to it yet. And who actually wants to do taxes?!
Bonus: V/H/S (2012)
Just in time for Halloween, check out this found-footage horror anthology. Swanberg directed the fourth segment, The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger. What starts out as a pretty standard haunted house story (complete with a creepy kid!) eventually morphs into something much, much stranger.
Regardless of how you feel about his movies (on Rotten Tomatoes, the aggregate audience score of those three aforementioned films is 43%, but the critics loved them; their average closer to 75%), it’s apparent that he really enjoys putting normal people together, thrusting them into situations just outside their comfort zones and watching them play off each other, with messy honesty.
While you’re waiting for us to add Easy to our collection (starring, among others, Orlando Bloom, Dave Franco, the hilarious Hannibal Buress, the adorable Gugu Mbatha-Raw and man-crush-everyday Jake Johnson), you can check out some of Swanberg’s other films.
Take It Easy:Check out Joe Swanberg's prior films
Ross works as a Clerk at the Mt. Washington branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. He loves reading books and watching movies and will often ramble about the two here. If he could live anywhere in Chicago, it’d be under Cloud Gate, aka the Bean.