4 out of 5
Created by: Ira Parker
covers season 1
There’s a certain type of dialogue patter which I tend to associate with those rooted in play-writing that tends to preclude what you’re watching as “clever.” Or that it wants to be clever, or that its creators think its clever, or whatever, but that can obviously offend our pretension-sensitive sensibilities and send us running for the hills of whatever our preferred dialogue delivery method is, which may or may not involve hashtags, or perhaps witty references to hashtags.
The “patter” is exactly that: A constant tap-tap-tap exchange, without pause for big concluding statements or music swells, and its because of that nature – whether we feel its successful or not – that the implication is that we should be listening, and not waiting for visual cues to guide us through a narrative. No, I don’t always like this style. It can definitely be indulgent. I’d say I first was exposed to it via David Mamet and Woody Allen movies, and those guys have obviously influenced many, so it opens us up to this genre of “patter” films where people may just be aping their heroes, but without the content to back it up.
But the focus on dialogue might also just be because the makers have something to say, and so we still can come out with some distinct voices, who’ve come by the style a little more honestly.
Four in the Morning is a patter show. And based on a sampling of reviews, it’s divided opinions as suggested: Pretentious or interesting. There’s a further strike against potential enjoyment in that the leads are all early 20somethings, an age group we already associate with pretentious know-it-allness, so combined with the genre trappings, I can understand turning away from the show. However – and I’d think my rating is a spoiler to this – I’d say there’s content worth watching here. And even more than that, and following on an exciting trend stirring in shows as seemingly disparate as Luke Cage and Fleabag, I think Four in the Morning might actually have something new to say, or at least a unique viewpoint to share, and accomplishes its venture more successfully than the other two examples offered.
The series sets itself up as a goofy Seinfeld friends-chat-about-nothing-by-way-of-Tarantino-extended-vignettes variation, which is more of a thing than that specific description may suggest as we’re now a generation of media-soaked, narcissistic, too-aware knobheads. These friends happen to generally congregate in a diner for the starts of these conversations, and it’s generally (although not always explicit, but we’ll assume thanks to the title) 4am. All that hyphenation up there may have you befuddled how this moves away from pretentiousness, but there are some implications that worked for me right from the start.
One of the biggest pluses, and an easy roadblock for other similar projects, is the cast. Although these are attractive, quirk-enabled actors, they’re perfect in their delivery, floating between disinterest, bemusement, affected awareness, intelligence and dunderheadedness with incredibly natural flow. You can somewhat divide them as the wacky one, the pensive one and etcetera, but that sells the performances way short. There’s dueling opening exchanges related to the dying wish of a pig and a guy suddenly proclaiming his love for the other guy’s girlfriend, and instead of coming across as annoying prattle, it’s genuinely amusing and delivered with dedicated passion. In other words, I never just felt like these were pretty faces reading scripted lines; I believed these people understood what they were saying, which definitely helped to smooth out the fast-paced banter which is the patter shtick.
The next positive – hand-in-hand with initial impressions of the cast – are the visuals and audio. Weird shows often come bundled with a Wes Anderson style pop-brightness, semi-recently seen in the UK series Utopia. It’s cool, but such an inherited cool by this point as to draw the same instant ire as the dialogue patterns. Elsewhere in “cool” comedies you’ve got your fly-on-the-wall observer, a la Arrested Development. This is the “ironic” eye. And is as over-used as any of the trends mentioned. Matched with this is the music, which either goes for impressing you with its cultivated tastemaking or aims for kitschy ditties. Once again, Four finds its own path, with flourishes in both departments while mindful of staying grounded. The nighttime setting lends itself to shadow which is countered by brightly lit diners, apartments and streets. The camera confidently moves with its characters, often with tight angles that are appropriately suggestive of the cramped quarters in which discourse is occurring. There’s no sitting back to breathe in artsy shots; no swaying handheld work. The soundtrack has a big jazz touch to it but no name-dropping; playful like the Birdman soundtrack – and equally in sync with the rambling-esque tone – and satisfyingly actual woven into the storyline itself.
So from a purely sensory standpoint, Four in the Morning waggles all the Obnoxious flags… and then has us put them down, one by one.
Superficial assessment thus passes, with goddamn flying colors. But what about the goddamn content? Well, here’s where thing might get dumb heady, but it’s also short and sweet. I mentioned above that the show very possibly broaches new territory. The term is a bit loaded; the musings on The Meaning Of It All as filtered through creative pursuits – writing, music – or love – the show somewhat tracking the mixing and matching of its two lead couples – or even just willful ignorance of the same, one character in particular spinning wild yarns about her life and the show happily dabbling in magical realism touches- these musings are not new, and have precedents in indie media dating back to the first time some poet or philosopher dropped some loaded words on the public then went off to weep in some corner. What is new – and why it’s important that we keep having these conversations, and why I mentioned Fleabag and Luke Cage, as the same concept as related to gender and race, respectively, applied there – is how the nature of the conversation has progressed. Four in the Morning pontificates, but makes an equal effort to undermine those conclusions without necessarily devaluing them, or drawing any forced conclusions. It allows its leads to ask questions without answering them, and without casting any kind of nerdy net over the whole thing, or subtly suggesting that its all for naught. Like, its okay with these people, but also accepts them as flawed, and as cool / uncool as any other fool on the planet. Normalizing these thoughts and concerns is a huge fucking deal, and I loved that these youngsters were pulling it off, and that they were funny about it to boot. Perhaps at a different age this may have hit me on a deeper level, but I’m happy with just witnessing this slight shift in consciousness take place. It is a logical rejection of the full-access culture we live in, to turn inward with some new meta-awareness, and I hope it’s a trend that continues for at least a little bit.
So what’s up with the four stars, Mr. Praisey? Well, yeah, look: One of the more impressive but less successful aspects of the show is that it works in an actual narrative regarding the relationships. This was an understandable anchor for some of the subject matter, but the connective tissue isn’t always there. Like, in episodes 7 and 8 when this story takes over, you’re a little surprised to realize they’re going in that direction. The show never really loses sight of it’s exploratory sensibilities, and I’m not sure I would’ve suggested pitching it otherwise, but its one noticeable bump in the surface.
Four in the Morning was an incredibly wonderful surprise. If you can snuffle past snap judgments, there’s an exciting, intelligent, and funny show to be watched.
It is also Canadian. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.