Easy is an 8-part anthology series written and directed by Joe Swanberg, and it was released worldwide on Netflix last week. The episodes are mostly self-contained pieces (I say mostly because episodes Three and Eight are directly related) featuring two or three central characters in what is essentially a volume of short stories with one common (visual) element: the city of Chicago.
I’ve specified the visual aspect because there is another common element to this show: sex. The show features experimental sex, exploratory sex, regularly scheduled sex, yes/no/I-don’t-know sex, adventurous sex, surprise sex, and desperate sex. Even when it isn’t actively depicted in an episode its impact is felt: in the choices certain characters are forced to make, in the lies certain characters tell, and in the personal narrative they weave around themselves based upon the sex they are having.
And this is how it all plays out if you watch the episodes in the order Swanberg (or Netflix) intended:
- A couple feels like their sex life needs spicing up, so they experiment with role-playing.
- A young girl finds herself attracted to another woman, and then goes about trying to change her own life, and life choices, so that she can be more like the girl she is in love with.
- A conventional dude reconnects with his freewheeling brother over their mutual love for brewing beer, and this causes a rift between the straight-laced dude and his very pregnant wife.
- A married couple that is trying to get pregnant has their life upended when an old friend (who used to date the wife) shows up in Chicago, crashes on their new couch, and causes a disruption in their marriage.
- A graphic novelist who has just released a third book based upon his own life meets, hooks up with, and then falls afoul of a young woman who makes art with a phone camera at the end of a selfie stick.
- A couple feel left out of the whole dating app fad that’s taken over the modern world and attempt to buy themselves a slice of the experience by inviting a third person into their bedroom.
- An actress tries to come to terms with her very fresh break up while doing the work necessary to land a part on a TV show in LA.
- The brothers with the home brewery are back, this time the conflict arises from the easygoing dude’s discomfort for the publicity their brand is getting and his dislike for his brother’s desire to ‘scale up’ their business.
Across episodes the show stars–in no particular order–Dave Franco, Malin Akerman, Emily Ratajkowski, Aya Cash, Kate Micucci, Marc Maron, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jake Johnson, Elizabeth Reaser, Orlando Bloom, Kiersey Clemons and Jane Adams. Those are just the names of the actors I recognised.
This is my third attempt at writing a review of Easy. Why is it so difficult? Because I am very impressed by the achievement but I’m not entirely sure of the product itself. I am in awe of the amount of credits Mr. Swanberg has amassed over the past eleven or twelve years, the talent he regularly works with these days, the fact that he is experimenting with shooting on film while the rest of the world is going digital, I could go on and on. But I’m not sure how much of the contents of Easy Season One will stay with me beyond this week.
We watched all eight episodes over a 28-hour period (5 the first night and 3 the second) and it is a testament to Mr. Swanberg’s skill as a filmmaker as well as the on screen talent’s commitment to giving in to the demands of each narrative that we felt a range of emotions about a group of people that essentially divided their time between talking, drinking and…y’know. But here’s the thing:
Episode Four–the only episode that is largely in Spanish–is the one episode that will live in my head for a while. This was also the first episode where the narrative went somewhere ‘dangerous’ after offering up the promise of Very Bad Outcomes in two of the three episodes that went before it. The performances by Aislinn Derbez and Mauricio Ochmann are riveting and there is one scene whose choreography alone is worth the price of this month’s subscription to the service. Also, the character Ms. Clemons plays in Episode Two is interesting because we don’t see too many mainstream portrayals of a woman who works so hard to shed her own ‘self’ so that she can be more like the one she loves. But that’s it.
The rest of the episodes told stories we’ve seen before, and there was nothing about this go around that said anything new about either the mechanics of a threesome or the value of role-playing in a long-term marriage. The beer brewing episodes just felt like a storyline that didn’t make the cut in Mr. Swanberg’s 2013 feature film Drinking Buddies. I guess what I’m trying to say is: I liked the wrapping more than (most of) the thing inside.