3 out of 5
Created by: Joe Swanberg
covers season 1
Mumblecore graduate Joe Swanberg – heck, all the originators have graduated now, helping confirm that mumblecore was an amateur’s genre yip yip – has found the ideal outlet for his observationist habits: The modern-day ongoing TV series. The boom in content providers has created a scramble for original content, and success (critical and commercial) with different genres has made those scrambling willing to experiment, and eager to embrace notable names and their ideas. Joe Swanberg, like him or not, is a notable name in indie, and so now he gets a turn at writing and directing a show.
Easy has his touchpoints: The swing between humor and dramatics via small moments or conversations; the welcoming attitude toward sex and drugs (though Easy is much more concerned with the former over the latter) and the frank but non-exploitative depiction of the same; and, of course, the open-ended, improv-esque dialogue, though the caliber of actor the series offers and (now) more experienced ear of the writer / director has steered this aspect away from rambles and down more focused avenues of discussion.
There are some other Swanberg aspects mixed in, which further informs a conker of a conclusion: this were a movie, I think I’d hate it.
‘Easy’ vaguely follows 8 different character interactions, sort of one per episode, which are maybe somewhat intertwined. It really only does this for six episodes, but more on that in a moment. The changing titlecard and music and slight variations on tone might make it seem like we’re supposed to interpret the show’s name differently throughout, but I think that’s a bit too deep; like always, Swanberg – us – we’re just here to watch, not necessarily judge, the episodes each depicting a hiccup in communication but then generally ducking out before the writing has to dig into it. This doesn’t make the concept simple, but it makes it easier to swallow, without any tough thoughts to wallow in, and while this shallowness can undermine a film in half hour snippets it works surprisingly well. We’re waiting for these tragic moments and the dramatics just don’t get the chance to veer there. Are we over-complicating everything? This is the indirect question Easy may ask, and Swanberg gives us enough slightly happier or sadder variations on this theme to make it not feel preachy.
However, as the episodes stack up, the interactive nature of the discourse (in that it touches on more universal themes) closes off a bit for some millenialism: Selfies are art; threesomes are healthy. Neither of these things are wrong, but the episodes covering these topics – both incredibly well-acted and flowing and watchable – don’t necessarily feel like we had much cause to observe them. And the final two episodes seem to he Swanberg realizing he had run out of steam on his theme and so “focus” on two more characters while more actually trying to ‘cleverly’ tie the episodes more tightly together via character inter-relationships and some thematic humdrumming. These two criticisms are part of the general mumblecore ethic: Having no point, and then forcing a narrative onto things after the fact (you can tell I love the genre, yes?), and while the episodic format seemed to have allowed Swanberg to ditch that and focus a bit, it also seems he couldn’t help himself overall. The episodes aren’t bad by any meams, but they undermine the more expansive work done in the series’ first half.
Easy is a very modern show. It has the laidback approach to life and relationships that you either relate to or hate others for relating to; the cleverness of Swanberg’s stand-back-and-watch approach, and skewing toward a slightly older cast, means you cam watch the material with either bias and not feel like its trying to sway you one way or the other. This openness of course sacrifices a clear feeling of intention, but the performances and direction are so assured as to keep you from caring too much, until the second half of the season gets a bit indulgent and then tries to wrap too much of a narrative bow on things.