THE SERIES "Lodge 49"
WHEN | WHERE Premieres Monday at 10:05 p.m. on AMC
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Dud (Wyatt Russell) is a Long Beach, California, surfer who's had a bad year. His father drowned in a boating accident — the body was never recovered — and he was bitten by a snake, literally, on a surfing trip. Out of luck, work and money, he scrounges for pennies and winds up on the couch of his twin sister Liz (Sonya Cassidy, "Humans"). One day Dud's car runs out of gas in front of a fraternal lodge. Drawn by fate and curiosity — or the lure of cheap beer and possible "alchemical mysteries" revealed therein — he wanders inside, where he is welcomed by Ernie (Brent Jennings, "Moneyball"). Ernie is "Luminous Knight of the Order," but by day a plumbing supplies salesman. An unusual friendship is struck.
This 10-parter was created by SoCal native and writer Jim Gavin ("Middle Men"), while Paul Giamatti is one of the producers.
MY SAY "Lodge 49" is mostly a yellow show, as in the color yellow. Yellow predominates. Dud's rickety VW Thing is yellow. Liz's apartment is yellow(ish). Dud's hair is yellow(ish), too. There are presumably reasons for this choice. Yellow naturally implies alchemy — as in the philosophers' stone, and turning lead to gold, and all that. Alchemy, or the transmutation of one substance to another, is a key theme of "49."
Yellow (naturally) implies Wes Anderson, too. It's a major component of the Anderson palette, and there is something decidedly Andersonian about "49," with its characters of the whimsical variety along with a tone and flavor to match. But it's a huge component of "The Simpsons" palette too, and there is something Simpsonian about "49" as well.
Mostly yellow flattens the screen, and forces images — or faces — right up to the front, making them more vivid and real. And under that pale, dust-dimmed, yellowish Southern California sun, all these faces seem especially real and vivid. The characters of "49" are people stuck in the middle — of their jobs, careers, lives. Like Dud, they're grounded in the past because the present and future seem so out of reach. Greater forces are controlling these lives, mostly giant corporations, which have buried their dreams and savings. Money comes hard or not at all and when it does come, it's owed to someone else. That feels familiar, too.
If "49" sounds like a downer, then perish the impression. It's really an upper, about the possibility — or probability — of magic in life, attainable if you know where to look for it and how to recognize it once found. While down on his luck and grieving a dead father and, presumably, a mother (she's never referred to), Dud's heart somehow remains open to that possibility.
There's magic out there, or in there — the lodge, or his heart — and Dud is determined to find out where. He recalls a moment in childhood, looking into a mirror that was on the ground, reflecting the great blue yonder. To him, the mirror was a portal to another world and "That's how I felt when I walked into the lodge. So I have to go back."
There are so many pleasures in "Lodge 49" that it's impossible to list them all here. The cast, from the mostly unknown Russell (the son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn) to the widely known Jennings, is excellent. The writing is bright and alive and often unexpectedly funny.
Mostly, "49" never takes itself too seriously, but just seriously enough. "It's possible to touch the sublime," explains Dud to a thoroughly bewildered congregation at his father's memorial. "Lodge 49" appears to agree.
BOTTOM LINE Fun, congenial and lighthearted but also smart and — when least expected — a little bit profound.