Dispatches from Elsewhere Series Premiere Review
*This review contains spoilers for series premiere*
AMC’s new anthology series, Dispatches from Elsewhere, offers a strange and mostly unique peek behind the curtain and introduces viewers to a new puzzling mystery that’s too enticing to resist.
Now, I don’t know a better way to introduce viewers to your show than to just have Richard E. Grant mesmerize you with his silent stare and then give an intriguing, fourth wall breaking monologue. It’s a perfectly strange opening that perfectly fits with the conspiracy sci-fi vibes the premiere gives off and Grant is just immaculate in entrancing viewers as he tells you everything you’d want to hear. With him making some nods to the show’s storytelling, the audience, and acknowledging that they cut down what would normally be a twenty-minute introduction to two minutes, Grant immediately puts viewers on the hook as we’re introduced to Peter (Jason Segel).
Frankly, it’s actually great that Peter’s intro is just cut down to two quick minutes as there isn’t a whole lot to say about him. As Grant’s Octavio says, he’s sort of just like us as he lives his menial and meaningless life just going to work and just existing. Although he daydreams about testing strange experiments like dolphin communications and force-field testing, he lives without taking risks and feels that his life is dictated by the signs around him. Even in his therapy sessions, he rarely speaks and when he does, he’s apologetic for not doing so. Segel, who puts everything he has into this show with him acting, writing, and directing, is actually very strong showing Peter as someone who legitimately feels stuck in a rut. That is until he’s introduced to the Jejune Institute, a mysterious institute that was inspired by the a “real-life” Institute of the same name shown in the 2013 documentary The Institute.
Peter’s arrival to a mysterious building sort of goes as you’d expect – he’s given cryptic instructions in the form of a giant key ring and meets some odd characters. His trip up the elevator leads to a strange hallway where we’re given one of many funny sequences that Segel and fellow writers Jeff Hull and Spencer McCall implement into the story. From the instructions on the key ring making Peter turn every direction in the hallway for no reason to a crazy dance sequence that happens later, the premiere has some strong comedic elements to it that fit perfectly between all the crazy. When Peter finally enters a small room, we’re treated to a scene that’s vaguely reminiscent to the scene in Get Out where Chris is strapped to the chair – but it’s oddly less horrifying.
Octavio appears on the screen with a jingle that gives off the perfect kind of classic Twilight Zone vibes that I totally dug. What follows is a scene that I really loved as Octavio motivates Peter to want to take risks and take a peek behind the curtain of his current life. With Grant delivering an incredibly motivating and powerful monologue alongside Segel slowly being moved to tears, it’s a great moment that makes you really connect to Peter and sucks you right into his perspective on life. What happens after though is even better as Peter is all ready to sign up for this new lease on life until he finds a cryptic message telling him to get up and run. It’s a sharp turn in the story and pacing that comes at the perfect moment as Peter scrambles to avoid contact with the shifty members of the institute and follow a mysterious caller’s directions to safety.
Where it leads him is a strange shop filled with knick-knacks and an initially hostile woman named Simone (Eve Lindley). Simone is essentially the complete opposite of Peter as she’s much more outgoing and livelier – something that Peter genuinely likes about her. Fixated on the strange things within the store, a brick with the word “Elsewhere” etched into it, and Simone’s personality, Peter is then given the next task that he does with Simone and he begins to have a new lease on life. The great monologue from Segel and the visuals of all the signs changing that once drove his life changing is really strong and it’s a dramatic change to the more comedic roles that he does that really works for him and it’s probably one of the best performances of his career. Not to mention, this premiere really does a great job creating strong visuals, like Peter sitting in front of TVs playing memories of his life and the big group finding one another through colored paddles, have this realistic eeriness to them that really draws you in.
However, this new lease on life doesn’t last long for Peter and the second he gets another call from the mysterious voice that saved him from Jejune, he’s all ready to regain his passion for life. Watching him follow strange arrows that point him to a lonely payphone and even participate in a dance sequence that features a whole crew and a strange hairy man literally makes you feel like you’re falling down the rabbit hole with him. It’s both perfectly comedic and a little strange – something that works well for Segel’s performance and the overall feel of the show.
Once he reaches his final clue, he finds Simone also patiently waiting and excited to see him. They come together to find that there is a large group waiting and then hold up the blue paddle’s they are given to find two more group members. As they do it, the mysterious caller is talking about their goals and it’s a nice setup without giving too much away. Their goal is to take down the supposedly evil Jejune Institute and find a girl named Clara and it’s a perfectly simple task that’s interesting enough to intrigue viewers. Not to mention, the mysterious stranger is intriguing enough because it’s legitimately unclear what his true motives are. Is he an ex-member of the Jejune? Is this just a part of their game?
While the answers to those questions remain unclear, Peter and Simone meet the very analytical Fredwyn (Andre Benjamin) and the very kind Janice (Sally Field). The four meet at the diner discussing what’s going on and if they believe in what the mysterious stranger is offering. While Fredwyn thinks it’s just some kind of international conspiracy and Janice thinks it’s just some kind of hoax, Peter questions if they come into something very real. With the night coming to a close, Simone leaves and we follow her outside with some handheld camera tracking shots that are used to great effective hear to create this feeling of characters being followed and watched. We’re treated to a very interesting sequence of Simone being followed by lurkers that’s intercut with a cartoon version of it playing out underneath while Octavio narrates about cartoons. Just when things seem like they’re about to take a very sexual assaulting turn, Simone pepper sprays her attackers and is shown to be more than capable of defending herself. The episode ends with us seeing Simone’s destructive homelife and setting up the next episode – which will follow her story.
Dispatches from Elsewhere takes viewers down a new kind of conspiracy sci-fi rabbit hole that too enticing to miss out. Segel excellently shows his talents, both in front of and behind the camera, as he treads new genre grounds and Grant is perfectly spectacular as the creepy and oddly dominating narrator that will likely play a bigger role in the grand scheme of things. AMC seems like they have another strong anthology series in its hands and one that boasts all the Twilight Zone vibes that are tough to resist.
Watch the Trailer Here: