Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Vignettes from Vermont: Review of "The Booth at the End"

"By and large, I think people can do far more
than they ever imagined."

BENNINGTON -- In a debut episode full of perverted dialogue, that innocuous line might be most perverse because it defines the best Web series in recent memory, if not ever.

Hulu's "The Booth at the End" is based on this: How far beyond the extreme would you bend your moral compass to get what you want?

Would you kill a little girl so the cancer killing your little boy goes into remission?

Would you as a beyond-cute 22-year-old rob a bank of $101,043 to become prettier?

Would you abduct a child and protect it at all costs to get the model of your dreams?

Would you become an 82-year-old domestic terrorist and build a bomb to kill a group of people so that your Alzheimer's husband of 60 years would come home?

Would you find a shut-in and do whatever it took to bring him outside so that your struggling father stumbles into a windfall of money to save his business?

Would you sink to an even lower depth of depravity as a rogue cop and kill a bad guy to find your troubled son.

Would you as a nun of 15 years have sex with a man to hear God again?

So perverted. So ... perfect.

And these are the tasks given by the man sitting in the booth at the end in a diner called Cadillac Jack's, which kind of looks like the Peach Pit from 90210. Whatever it is you asked for will manifest if you complete the task, guaranteed. Of course, there are twists along the way. You get what you want, but ... ... ...

Xander Berkeley plays the perverted dealmaker who "creates opportunities for people to do things" and as he creates those opportunities he's providing lessons in Acting 101 thanks to series creator Christopher Kubasik, who writes golden scripts for Berkeley every episode. There's even a bit of Ferris Buelleristic dialogue moments after this exchange:

Jenny: I want to be prettier.
Taskmaster: How would you know when you're pretty enough?
Jenny: I would know.
Taskmaster: So you want to become prettier till you know you're pretty enough.
Jenny: Yes.
Taskmaster: That can happen.

The dealmaker allows you into the seat across from him only if you mention the pastrami.

We never learn the name of the taskmaster, an unflinching, unforgiving lucifer of sorts with a midnight shadow and eyes that can set the world afire with a squint and a glare.

You tell him your wants and desires, and he bites into an English muffin and scribbles into a worn-leather notebook. It may as well be the Devil's Bible. He opens it to a random page and what springs to life is your bizarre task.

You either make a deal or you don't, and he doesn't give a shit whether you deal or walk.

Aghast at the task you'll say "But how do I ... ?" or "Where do I ... ?" and he responds to the effect "Sorry, buddy, but that's for YOU to figure out if you want what you want so badly."

Some -- most -- of the deals leave you thinking WTF!?! Build a bomb to main and murder scores of innocents?

Mrs. Tyler: Do you make everyone who comes to you hurt someone?
Taskmaster, nonchalantly: No, only some.

Murder for remission. Robbery for pretty. Protection for love. Fuck for God.

The thing is, cancer goes into remission on its own sometimes. A girl is pretty if she believes she is. You don't need to throw your virginity into the garbage can and get pregnant because the man promises you will hear the sweet hum of God again. Life has a way of working itself out sometimes without us having to make a deal with the devil.

Then again, this man in the booth at the end guarantees his deals. Hard to say no. Desperation makes us do desperate things.

On top of which, the desperado who deals must return to the booth often to provide detailed updates because the dealmaker lusts for our thinks and thunks.

James: Look, is this the kind of thing you want to hear when you wanted to hear the details?
Taskmaster: It's the most important part, James, a person's thoughts.

Creamy dialogue and intertwined storylines and riveting acting and killer cinematography fill the booth in all 5 episodes that comprise Season 1.

And then there's Doris the blonde waitress -- out of this world gorgeous -- who matches wits with the taskmaster throughout the first season and now has taken on a dubious role in the second season, which began two weeks ago.