Among the axioms of the television renaissance is that the medium is becoming more cinematic, with single-story seasons that are essentially six- or 10-hour films. But one of the most movie-like new shows of autumn doesn’t fit that description.
Easy, available now on Netflix, consists of eight half-hour episodes that are free-standing stories, a few of them very loosely connected. It covers ground that a lot of other TV shows are covering: questions of sex, love and freedom among a mostly young group of city dwellers, in Chicago. But it has the distinct style of its creator, writer and director, the independent filmmaker Joe Swanberg. It’s a four-hour immersion in the ambient, artfully aimless storytelling of the film genre sometimes labelled mumblecore.
The vignettes in Easy involve inflection points, muffled moments of questioning or confusion that — in mumblecore style — reach only tentative resolutions. A married couple indulge their jealousy of the swipe-right world of modern dating by going on Tinder and find themselves in a surprising threesome. A woman unexpectedly finds herself in love, or what she thinks is love, and sets about remaking herself in the image of her vegan, bicycle-riding girlfriend. A young husband and soon-to-be father rebels against adulthood by signing on to his brother’s plan to open an illegal brewery.
Responses to Easy should break down along the same lines as responses to Swanberg films like Drinking Buddies and Digging for Fire. The low-key, improvisatory nature of the work can strike some as remarkably natural and authentic, and others as fingernails-on-the-blackboard exasperating. Working on his own series for the first time (he has directed episodes of HBO’s Looking and Netflix’s Love), and in 27-minute bursts, he gives the episodes more of a conventional story structure than his feature films, but the rhythms are the same.
Swanberg has worked with some of the actors in Easy before, including Orlando Bloom and Jake Johnson, but the sheer number of interesting performers in the cast probably has to do with both the lure of Swanberg’s methods and the prestige and budget that Netflix affords. Malin Akerman and Bloom play the Tinder-curious couple, and Kate Micucci their mutual friend; Gugu Mbatha-Raw is an actress going through a breakup; Raul Castillo of Looking is an uptight husband (a common character in the series); Hannibal Buress is a reporter; the comedian and podcast host Marc Maron is a frustrated graphic novelist. They’re all good, though only Mbatha-Raw really breaks through the restraints of the short format and delivers something powerful.
For some, the biggest selling point of Easy will be Chicago itself. The show fully inhabits its location, drawing on its corps of actors and settling into familiar cafes and theatres. Local figures like Arthur Agee, who appeared in the basketball documentary Hoop Dreams, make cameo appearances as themselves. If Easy doesn’t work for you as drama, it’s at least a touching love poem to a city.
Don’t miss it!
Easy is now streaming on Netflix