Published online on Nov 18, 2016
People in and around my age seem a bit stressed lately. I’m not quite sure why, but one theory is that we don’t have enough television programs to help us transition between young and “real” adulthood.
Editor’s Note: It’s NOT that.
Revels is dedicated to putting positivity into the world, and covering recent events are a somewhat irrelevant to both this piece and this mission. How to ignore it, though?
I wrote this before November 8th, and have struggled with how to post it in a way that recognizes the privilege ingrained in arguing this show as reflective of reality. I’d like to emphasize the use of the phrase “target audience.” The show is still well-done, still deals with universal emotions and still worth watching, but not everyone sees themselves in Easy’s characters with the ease of primarily-white college-educated millennials.
Getting lost in media consumption rarely effects change, and it just became infinitely more important for people to be active members of their societies. We can’t say what will happen, can’t say that distracting yourself for an hour or two will help anything but your mood. Your mood is important, and it just became infinitely more difficult for many of us to be in a good one.
If you’re feeling like treating yourself, Netflix has just cornered the aging hipster market. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but I venture to say that the television platform has taken its place next to the high-budget, high-drama escapism of HBO to capitalize on the subtleties of everyday life with Joe Swanberg’s Easy.
Another Netflix original aggressively targeted toward aging millennials, each episode of Easy focuses on a different relationship(s) from couples, friends, families in their mid-twenties into thirties. It deals with the joys, challenges and awkwardness of settling down, having kids, trying to get pregnant, things the Netflix generation is either currently dealing with or thinking about maybe having to deal with in the future. Each episode centers around different characters, offering a short glimpse into the eccentricities and complexities of modern life. They hone in on a single conflict and end in moments of uneasy resolution.
Characters range from a mid-twenties hip vegan film buff and baggage-wielding basic girl struggling to discover where a budding relationship fits in their lifestyles, a one-off subtitled episode featuring a spanish-speaking couple trying to get pregnant with an ex-lover/old friend crashing on their couch and the impeccable comic relief of Orlando Bloom and Malin Akerman trying out a Tinder threesome with a baby upstairs. It’s voyeuristic; you don’t have time to form solid attachments to the characters and are able to see them very plainly. Yet by the end of each episode, when Swanberg inserts an inkling of hope, you’re rooting for them. They’re just more people trying to get through life.
Who here watched Love? Through a love of Freak and Geeks and a penchant for immature humor I will watch anything Judd Apatow puts in front of me, especially if he’s going get Gillian Jacobs involved. Cue a three-day housesitting Netflix binge culminating in the vague discomfort but full satisfaction of another of the network’s a-bit-too-realistic exercises in awkward comedy. The show surpassed my affection for Apatow and vestiges of Community in being clever and relevant to my own life experience.
The experience of balancing romance, work and friendships in a framework of established bad habits and hang ups was well-executed and touching. At some point, however, you inevitably look at the two characters and think “well, compared to them I am incredibly emotionally healthy and have nothing to worry about.” It follows Lena Dunham’s Girls in stepping outside of the realm of relatability, with an interesting parallel in being very city-specific. My obsession with Love was in great part an exercise in Hollywood homesickness.
I suspect it’s distributing plotlines, conflicts and personalities between so many characters that allows Easy to bypass the hints of narcissism that seeped into both Apatow’s and Dunham’s work. The conflicts are more relatable and the character development is remarkably deft for such a limited amount of screen time. Season two will come, so there’s still time, but no one character’s flaws are that over-the-top. Even the self-absorbed comic book artist has the fantastic Jane Adams as a flawed but sensible longtime friend. Seeing someone who understands, loves and puts up with this infuriating character allows you to do the same.
Another element of the show that lends it vitality is that few of the characters are blank slates put into roles to frame other characters. Adam’s character gains more depth in another episode; these crossovers bringing relatability, relevance, and reality.
This isn’t to say Netflix hasn’t produced some fantastic television that’s more overtly fictive. Anyone who’s seen Jessica Jones (or as I like to refer to it: Nobody wears a sweater like David Tennant) or any of the Marvel-universe shows knows what I’m talking about. It is to say that Easy brings Netflix originals into the forefront of shows that capture the essence of their target audience’s experience.
For those experiencing the sledgehammer-in-the-face of growing up, try watching something strikingly honest, a bit uncomfortable and depressing and uplifting at the same time. Get some distance, see your problems on a different screen. We all fight, make up, we try to make changes, fail, continuously realize that nobody cares about our personal failures as much as we do. Sit down, commit to polishing off that tube of Pringles before the end of the night, but make sure you have the baby monitor.
Or binge on Game of Thrones until you forget about the real world entirely.