Gypsy

2 out of 5

Created by: Lisa Rubin

covers season 1

Well-made crap.

…Hokay, that’s a bit harsh, but figured I’d jump out of the gate with the gut-punch summary.  Gypsy isn’t crap – not exactly – but it suffers from the “I’m confused about how this episodic thing works” problem that has bubbled up in our current binge-streaming media, and it’s sorely confused about what type of show it wants to be.  To cover up the latter, it tries to be incredibly cagey about certain details, which of course becomes questionable when those details come to light and either don’t assist the “main” plot or just have you scratching your head and wondering why this bit of info was being withheld in the first place.  In this sense, I’m very much reminded of Showtime’s The Affair, which started with a solid premise of studying conflicting points-of-view when emotions like lust and anger are involved, but someone seemed to constantly be demanding More Showtime!  More Cryptic Bullshit! And so its first season stepped all over itself with pointless subplots and lots of tits.  Gypsy isn’t necessarily as sexed up, but its own solid premise – Naomi Watts as a behavioral psychologist who seems to sneak herself into her clients’ personal lives (via other people they mention in session) in order to, perhaps, better empathize with their feelings, thus drawing us into a contemplation on identity – keeps getting derailed by 50 Shades of Gray fantasizing, featuring Watts’ “wild side” of shower sex and slapping during intercourse and, of course, latent lesbianism.  When the show tries to get back to talking about these themes of identity – and more interestingly, the identities we convince ourselves to have – it’s so far behind in setting the context that the writers have to go for pot-smoking elicited wisdom, which they then lampshade by having someone joke about how deep what they’re saying is.

None of this is quite as trashy as I’m making it sound, but its part of the show’s own identity problem, in its inability to commit to a direction.  What seems like a psychological thriller, with Watts as a mischevious manipulator, becomes an erotic thriller when she becomes obsessed with one patient (or their proxy) in particular.  But then the show doubles back on other games Watts is playing, and pares it off against her home life with a stand-up husband (Billy Crudup) and a gender wishy-washy daughter named – oof – Dolly, setting up a grand mess of half-lies that we never quite get the insight on why they’re pursued.  Indications are offered, but I don’t think this is the show trying to be smart and coy so much as not really knowing the answers.  Which is fine: Watts wants to have many cakes and eat them all; but again, this is one of several potentially complex concepts Gypsy can’t quite bring itself to effectively explore.

But is it watchable?  If not for Watts’ incredibly balanced performance, and Crudup bringing believable credibility to the too-good hubby, it would be a tough sell.  These actors anchor the material with nuance where others might be tempted to play it too innocent, or too vaguely.  Watts, central in almost every scene, finds the relatability in a hard-to-like role.  I can understand the appeal of the part to an actor, but I wish the overall story offered more in support.

And there’s a whole separate piece here about what kind of “gaze” this show caters to, but you can argue it any which way and I don’t think I have the energy for that.  I went back and forth on it; overall I think it falls into the same wishy-washy bucket as the concepts: sometimes it’s empowering, sometimes it’s frank, sometimes it’s catering.  It’s from a female perspective, but there’s an unironic sexualization to that perspective…. Nope, not getting into it.

Now, The Affair managed to find its footing after season one, first making better work of its mystery plot and then really digging deep into fascinating, open-ended questions on sexuality, so maybe Gypsy will stop tittering over girls liking girls and pay off on its own themes in following seasons.  Alas and alack, damn the talented Watts, I will likely be watching to find out.

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