Available on YouTube
The Oscar-winning Jordan Peele seems to have ambitions to be the new Rod Serling. This might not be an obvious career choice for a long-time member of the cast of Mad TV, the co-star of Comedy Central’s eponymous Key & Peele and the co-creator of The Last OG, but the evidence is mounting up.
There was, of course, his directorial debut Get Out, which had a touch of the Ira Levins to it. Coming soon we have the most literal evidence – Peele is the creator and host of CBS All Access’ forthcoming The Twilight Zone reboot:
But first we have YouTube sci-fi anthology show Weird City. It’s set in the city of the near sci-fi future with a slightly odd set-up that it explains very early on:
Sci-fi anthologies aren’t especially new, even on streaming services, where we have Netflix’s Black Mirror. Class divides aren’t that new in sci-fi either – it’s the entire foundation of the future society of The Time Machine, for example.
But Weird City is a little bit different from its predecessors in one main regard – it’s not dystopian. In fact, it’s actually quite nice and sunny.
To a certain extent, there’s no point reviewing an anthology show since each episode will be different. However, a single episode can usually establish the tone, so let’s have a look at the first episode.
In Weird City, the Haves get assigned at birth their mate, who will be the perfect match for them. The Have Nots have to date.
However, one Have (The Maze Runner/Teen Wolf‘s Dylan O’Brien) is the son of a Have Not made good, so wasn’t assigned a mate at birth. He decides to use a dating service to find ‘the One’ (the episode’s title) and is somewhat surprised when he’s assigned Ed O’Neill (Modern Family, Married with Children) – as is O’Neill – since both men are straight.
It’s not long, however, before the two men click and are dating, meeting each other’s families and so on. But as you can imagine, there’s a twist coming…
So, there you have it. All the classic ingredients of a sci-fi dystopia anthology with a twist in the tale. Yet, the ultimate conclusion doesn’t see the two men destroyed by a freak attack of seagulls or mercilessly mocked out of society by friends with an ‘ostracism app’.
Instead, true love triumphs and they live happily ever after. And if that’s not a twist for a genre anthology show, I don’t know what is.
Weird City is also a comedy, so works hard to raise some laughs along the journey, beyond merely having such an odd couple pairing. There are copious genre references, with Blade Runner, Elysium and The Game receiving the most obvious head nods. There’s also a nice satire of dramatic convention, such as when our couple get ‘ambushed’ at home and the bad guys start making dramatic entrances. “Have you just been standing there out of sight by the door this whole time? Could you not just have come in together? Wouldn’t that have been easier?”
And, of course, the whole thing does have a moral and sub-text to it. The episode plays on the nature of identity and the conventions of role. Both leads get given the dialogue men and women of different ages would get that’s almost randomly allocated depending on whom they’re talking to. O’Brien has to act as both step-dad and step-mom to O’Neill’s children. However, O’Neill’s son acts like a child, despite being a grown adult, with O’Brien bonding with him by throwing a ball. It also serves to highlight how much society assigns us typical behaviours.
There’s also a small line in sci-fi innovation, such as apps installed in people’s heads, vending machines that provide therapy and, of course, ‘The Line’ itself.
The first episode also features ST: TNG‘s LeVar Burton and future episodes see the likes of Sara Gilbert, Rosario Dawson, Michael Cera, Laverne Cox, Awkwafina, Hannah Simone, Gillian Jacobs, Malcolm Barrett, Mark Hamill, Yvette Nicole Brown, Trevor Jackson and Auli’i Cravalho showing up.
But as with everything YouTube, the question is: is this enough to make me want to subscribe to the service? And six episodes of feelgood Twilight Zone isn’t enough by a long shot, even with future plots like “Criminals Charlotta (Awkwafina) and Glail (Yvette Nicole Brown) discover that they actually aren’t who they think they are – they’re really actors on a show that airs in Weird City. Their discovery leads them to question their very existence.”
You won’t come out of the first episode of Weird City thinking that it was so great, you want to hand over money to watch any more of it. A 30-day trial, maybe, but you’d cancel before the end of it.
So kudos to both YouTube and Peele for doing something a bit different, at least. But unfortunately, it’s a bit too brief and a bit lacking in true razor sharpness for me to want to much more of it. But it did make me want to watch Peele’s take on The Twilight Zone, at least.
Here are the first two episodes for you to see how you feel: