Welcome to the weirdest hospitality experience this side of Norman Bates.
Created by the Duplass brothers, this new anthology series — which, increasingly, seems like the only kind of series anyone wants to make anymore — offers different tales set in the same motel room, with a new cast of characters every week. The mind-bending premiere features a babysitting gig gone horribly wrong; a later episode finds Orlando Jones as a cult priest promising “transcendence.”
With eerie vibes and plenty of suspense, Room 104 comes off as a funhouse lab for the Duplass duo’s most out-there ideas — and they have a lot of out-there ideas. This may come as a surprise for people who associate them primarily with talk-y relationship dramas like Togetherness and The Puffy Chair, but a lot of their productions have a devilish strain running through them, from the indie sci-fi puzzle Safety Not Guaranteed to the downright creepy Elisabeth Moss-starring thriller The One I Love.
These stories are in that vein — less mumblecore and more Black Mirror. Not all the episodes are necessarily dark though. Some of the better ones offer the kind of short slice-of-life moments, not too different from the humans-doing-stuff vignettes one might find on HBO’s High Maintenance. Take, for instance, a stressful episode that centers entirely on the phone conversations between an aspiring screenwriter and his mother, or the breathtaking half-hour featuring a beautifully choreographed montage of two women dancing.
Half the fun of Room 104 is not knowing what you’ll get in a given episode. Not every half-hour will connect, and some might be annoyed by the half-baked nature of some of the stories. But that’s also its charm. It’s experimental theater meets short story — a refreshing, frequently pleasurable break from the mandatory 12-episode binges that dominate the TV landscape today.