Hit or Sh**: Netflix’s GYPSY
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
In the case of many other publications, the Founder and Editor-in-Chief wouldn’t dare to be seen anywhere near the actual content grinding, but over here at Crossfader, things run a little bit differently. As our weekly assignment lists go out and the days stretch on with nobody picking up the myriad of mid-level shows that make up the vast bulk of television programming, I begin to shudder and shake in my boots, a cold sweat slowly creeping across the nape of my neck, for I know that I must wade into the trenches of middling intellectual property once more. Will it be another BLOOD DRIVE? Another CLAWS? Another, Heaven forbid, STAN AGAINST EVIL? Thankfully, in the case of GYPSY, the Naomi Watts vehicle you probably didn’t care to know anything else about, things are not quite so bleak. The casting director deserves full credit for any success the show has or will experience, as Watts is an angel sent from above, carrying each and every second of the show on her shoulders. However, it remains to be seen if GYPSY can manage to continually endure while relying on this tenuous formula.
The premise of the Hit or Sh** series is that our contributors are supposed to make a judgement after the pilot, but with GYPSY, I’m already three episodes in and I’m still not exactly sure what’s going on. And believe it or not, that actually works in favor of the show. Our dearly beloved Ms. Watts plays Jean Holloway, a therapist in the Big Apple who spends her days trying to relate to her patients and worrying that her husband, Michael (Billy Crudup), is giving the goods to his secretary, Alexis (Melanie Liburd). However, she clearly tries a bit too hard to get into the nitty-gritty of her clients’ personal lives, taking particular interest to the case of Sam (Karl Glusman), a certified S A D B O Y who’s just trying to move on from his breakup with Sidney (Sophie Cookson). Before we know it, Jean is masquerading as a “Diane Hart,” frequenting the coffee shop that Sidney works at, and starting a long, strange, semi-sexual flirtation with her to get to know her better, ostensibly so as to have more personal nooks and crannies to explore during Sam’s sessions. Why does she care so much about helping Sam? Why does she feel the need to get to know Sidney to such a degree? Is this all just a way of coping with the increasing evidence of Michael’s infidelity?
Literally every promotional image for this show is some variation of this
I know what you’re thinking, and yes, I too am worried that the ultimate explanation for all of this behavior will be deeply, profoundly stupid. But for now . . . it’s kinda cool. I don’t mind being kept in the dark every now and then, and the more clues we’re given that Jean has some major internal cracks behind her calm, collected, professional facade, the more my curiosity is piqued. GYPSY does a commendable job of keeping things weird. Not THE OA weird, but just off-kilter enough to add a sheen of illogical pseudo-surrealism to the actions and behavior of the characters that an appealing level of soapiness is achieved. Perhaps the best way to describe it is as a domestic thriller set to a resolutely glacial pace. The sleek, heightened production value is there, the A-list vetted actress is there, the broiling turmoil of a marriage gone stale and untrustworthy is there, this is a Thanksgiving break movie as extrapolated to our most ubiquitous streaming format and dosed with layers of dextromethorphan. Things are carried out with a brooding urgency that adds a simulacra of kinesis, but once you step back from it, you realize that almost every conflict as presented within the pilot is one of comparative banality.
And that’s where my overarching concerns for the series as a whole lie. Truly, there’s nothing bad about the pilot, or even the next few proceeding episodes. But I just can’t imagine it’ll be easy to get continually invested in another tense dinner at home, or another scolding from school officials about the erratic behavior of Dolly (Maren Heary), Jean and Michael’s daughter, or another will they/won’t they outing at a bar between Jean and Sidney that we’re not quite confident in the logic of including to begin with. The next most buzz-worthy participant in GYPSY apart from Naomi Watts is Sam Taylor-Johnson, the director of the infamous FIFTY SHADES OF GREY film, and to her credit, her directorial presence actually manages to positively manifest itself in the pilot that she directs. The over-exaggerated staging of her oeuvre works further to the show’s bizarrely stiff treating of psychosexuality, and whatever titillation is to be had (and there certainly is some) feels like a gift that is her and hers alone. When the show gets rounded out by anonymous gun-for-hires in later episodes, it seems dubious to assume that anything will feel more than accidentally effective, if it will feel effective at all.
You think I’m playing?
And yet, later episodes will still feature Naomi Watts, so the likelihood of GYPSY slowly jogging or limping to the finish line is still a definite possibility. Naomi Watts: what an unsung national treasure! Jean’s character is a complex one, full of frustration, ennui, untapped sexuality, and psychological disturbance in equal measure, and Watts is able to capture each shade with a masterful grasp of nuance. Her eyes smoldering with either a professional, emotional, or erotic intensity in nearly every modicum of screen time she possesses, the expressivity she manages to convey is worth the price of admission alone. The perfect encapsulation of a former stunning beauty resisting with every chance she can the plateauing physical sandpit of middle age, we can clearly latch onto the fact that there’s a burgeoning sense of desperation breathing down her neck at the same we can’t help but feel envious of those she bestows her romantic affections upon. As far the other actors go, sure, they’re not bad! Nobody feels stilted or in over their heads, there’s just an encompassing sense of functional competence that holds back Billy Crudup and the supporting cast. You know who would have perfectly fit the bill? An entirely serious, late-game attempt at critical relevancy Rob Lowe. Billy Crudup ain’t bad, but it’s clear the budget was chewed up on Watts.
All in all, GYPSY has proven thus far to be worth a watch. You’ll be able to find some enjoyment from the pilot, especially if you have a beer or two in you and/or are at least mildly preoccupied with something else. But I understand that that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of its merits, and it does have a decent amount to prove to be worth any attention in the long run. Taylor-Johnson’s touch is perfect for the first few episodes you’ll wade through, but it remains to be seen if the narrative will gain enough purposeful intrigue to encourage us to press play on ever-increasing episodes to follow. For now, give it a shot for Naomi Watts.
Verdict: Sh** Probation
GYPSY is currently available to stream in its entirety on Netflix