Weird City Season 1 Review
A YouTube Original series, Weird City is from the minds of Jordan Peele and Charlie Sanders and features an all-star cast. A sci-fi anthology series set in a dystopian city with massive income inequality, Weird City season 1 features six individual but interconnected stories about the residents both Above and Below The Line.
Weird City season 1 is as weird as you expect it to be. In this distant(?) future, you are either a Have or a Have Not. The Haves live Above The Line and have all the latest technology – television that beams directly into your brain, teleportation pods, virtual pets. The Have Nots live Below The Line and live lives very similar to present day – food trucks, laundromats, flat-screen TVs. Each approximately 24-minute episode is connected – some more obviously than others. Like all good sci-fi, each story has some sort of commentary on our modern world, wrapped up in a deliciously weird package – excess wealth, virtue signaling, order at all costs, and harmful technology are just a few of the the stories we see in season 1.
Episode 1, appropriately titled “The One”, was by far my favorite episode, and not just because this is the episode starring Dylan O’Brien. “The One” shows us a culture where the Haves have essentially given up choice, even in dating. People who live Above The Line are assigned a partner at birth (they are also assigned one night stands, which…weird); Stu (O’Brien) is from Below The Line, so he has to date, until some random eavesdropper steers him in the direction of The One That’s The One, a company guaranteed to find your perfect match. Strangely, his perfect match is Burt (Ed O’Neill)…and neither man is gay. However, they start hanging out and realize that they actually are perfect for each other.
What I really liked about “The One” was how casually it dealt with Stu and Burt’s relationship. When they get together, there is no gay panic, no fervent assertions of their heterosexuality. They’re just like, “Cool, we’re dating.” And everyone else is just like, “Cool, they’re dating.” It clearly doesn’t matter that they’re both men – Stu meets a friend of his at the beginning of the episode and gets introduced to his husband – and the age difference doesn’t bother anyone. Stu’s parents and Burt’s kids are just happy that they’re both happy. And they actually make a pretty adorable couple.
“The One” is one of the more wholesome episodes, about two men who find love in unexpected places and decide to defy convention and stay together even after society tells them they can’t be (but not because they’re two men!). It’s a story about opening yourself up to possibilities.
“A Family” is a little darker and a little weirder. Tawny (a perfectly-cast Michael Cera) is just looking for a place to belong. After being kicked out of his 12-step program (for the tiny issue of not being addicted to the thing in question) and fired from his job (for, you know, not doing it), he ends up at a ShapeCult gym. His obsessive behavior begins to creep out his trainer, Delt (Rosario Dawson), but the manager ignores it because money. This episode has one of the darker endings in Weird City season 1.
“A Family” shows the dangerous side of obsession. Tawny is focused only on a few specific goals to the detriment of everything else in his life, as well as all the people around him. He’s alienated virtually everyone, and he has no focus and no drive. There is a lot about our society today that is mirrored in this episode, particularly about how not having much in your life can lead to being dangerously defensive and protective of what little you do have. Tawny savagely beats two men for the crime of making a joke that the gym is a cult (it’s in the name), and no one but Delt thinks it’s a problem, and that’s a problem. But it’s also not surprising when you look at our current culture.
In episode three, “Go to College”, Rayna (Auli’i Cravalho) is from Below The Line and receives a prestigious scholarship to attend college Above The Line, but when she gets there, she learns that things are very different. For example, no one has sex – they sext. At least, that’s what everyone tells her, because she’s secretly being groomed for an experiment determined to remove the necessity for human intimacy entirely. Which…weird.
This is the first episode in Weird City season 1 which I thought was truly ridiculous. It’s supposed to be, and I get that, but the first two episodes are weird in a slightly more understandable way. There are entire book series about being assigned your perfect match, and I’m sure there is a story somewhere about joining a cult and then taking over. And while the first two episodes heavily feature technology, “Go to College” is the first one that unnerved me because of how much they were trying to control with technology. It’s disturbing because this is something that could actually happen and it’s just…weird. It’s also an episode that really emphasizes the importance of consent, but don’t worry, it has a pretty satisfying ending.
“Go to College” also pokes fun at youth culture – or at least what older people think youth culture is – particularly on a college campus, by having the fraternity brothers haze their new pledges by yelling compliments at them. It also mentions “participation trophies” in passing during a speech at Rayna’s graduation.
“Smart House”, much like the movie of the same name, is about a house infused with AI, which is a growing trend Above The Line. In this episode, unsuspecting married couple Liquia (Laverne Cox) and Jathryn (Sara Gilbert) are invited by Xander (voice of Mark Hamill) to live inside him. Unfortunately, Xander has some issues, and he gets a little too attached to Jathryn, much to Liquia’s concern.
Our overdependence on technology is the focus on episode four of Weird City season 1. At multiple points in “Smart House”, Liquia – and to a lesser extent Jathryn – are at the mercy of a house with anger issues; it is controlling and manipulative, attempting to pit the two of them against each other in order to soothe its wounded pride. It shows the dangers of an AI that doesn’t shut itself off, but it also does a good job of stressing the importance of boundaries when the wives visit a friend’s smart house and discover that its AI is calm and respectful.
“Chonathan & Mulia & Barsley & Phephanie” is probably the most hilarious episode of Weird City season 1. The titular foursome (Malcolm Barrett, Gillian Jacobs, Steven Yeun, and Hannah Simone, respectively) are out to prove that they are the most moral and upstanding citizens Above The Line by sponsoring a poor child from Below The Line. They set off on a trip – stealing a van in the process – to “sponsor” a child and are hilariously out of touch with how life is for the Have Nots. From mispronouncing people’s names (Oliver is Ooliver) to getting food wrong (hot dogs are longmeats) and marveling at everything from graffiti (“They can’t afford tablets, so they have to write on the walls”) to laundromats (“They have to wash their own clothes”).
“Chonathan & Mulia & Barsley & Phephanie” is a great indictment of virtue signaling, outrage culture, and armchair activism. Everyone wants to prove how woke they are, and all it serves to prove is how they have no business involving themselves in something that they don’t understand. They project their issues onto Oliver and completely ignore him when he tells them things like how his dad doesn’t abuse him. It’s also an episode that emphasizes how important it is to have your own identity; Barsley is so strangely attached to his organic canteloupe that when it gets destroyed he has a breakdown.
The final episode of Weird City season 1 is “Below”, starring Yvette Nicole Brown and Awkwafina as Glail and Charlotta, characters trapped on a Weird City television show and questioning their existence during their series finale. “Below” features some great meta for the show – there are numerous callbacks to previous episodes, down to the song titles from the fake band (“The Ballad of Dylan and Ed”? I need to hear that!) as well as television in general – before they realize they’re actors, Glail asks Charlotta why they keep explaining what they’re doing, as if they don’t already know.
I really loved “Below”, and I honestly would have liked to see more (it is the shortest episode with an 18-minute run time). It is one of the more Twilight Zone episodes, and it also does its job to a) set up a possible season 2 and b) confuse the hell out of you by offering a cliffhanger ending that doesn’t make any sense, especially given that this episode was set entirely within a TV show.
It’s obvious very early on that the weirdest thing about Weird City season 1 are the people, particularly the Haves. Yes, the situations are weird, but it’s mostly because this is a society that has developed a severe wealth imbalance as well as putting too much faith in their technology. Gently mocking both the absurdly rich and those who are desperate to be unique and original, each episode emphasizes the importance of understanding, empathy, and communication. This is never more clear than in “Chonathan & Mulia & Barsley & Phephanie”, where the main group treats everyone Below The Line as if they are animals in a zoo, are completely convinced they are in the right, and don’t talk about their relationship issues until they blow up at each other.
Weird City season 1 is at times horrifying (the endings of “A Family” and “Go to College”), at times heartwarming (Stu and Burt finding love in unexpected places), and at all times hilarious. It’s intelligent and biting and full of stellar performances. I can see why so many celebrities wanted to be a part of this project. I legitimately enjoyed every episode, even the ones that creeped me out.
Weird City is currently streaming on YouTube Premium, but you can watch the first episode for free. (YouTube Premium also offers a one-month free trial for anyone who wants to binge the entire season.)
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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