Somehow, it’s taken this long for a TV series to delve into the seedy underworld hiding behind the facade of Los Angeles psychics.
Whether fortune telling is something you believe in or not, Hulu’s new original series “Shut Eye” takes the viewer on a trip behind the neon storefronts into a collection of stories stylistically reminiscent of early Coen Brothers, or even Vince Gilligan. Maybe we’re biased since the locales featured in the show are neighborhoods we pass on a daily basis. Maybe we’re onto something.
The gist of “Shut Eye” is simple enough: A fake psychic suffers a head injury and begins having very real, and jarring, visions.
Jeffrey Donovan’s role as Charlie — the fake psychic we referenced above — anchors the story. moving from con man to unexpected visionary: Dwelling in a moral gray area, between swindler and hero. And that’s just one element that makes the story layered and intriguing.
Cons: Maybe it’s by comparison to Donovan’s performance as Charlie is complex and nuanced, but crime boss Fonso (Angus Sampson) feels the most contrived of the bunch. Maybe it’s the tired caricature we’ve seen all too much in other Mafia-themed programs that has us rolling our eyes as he appears on screen — but Tony Soprano, he most definitely is not. Still, there’s a palpable chemistry between Sampson and Donovan, as we witnessed before, in the second season of Noah Hawley’s “Fargo.”
And too, without the imposing bravado of Fonso, we wouldn’t have the calculated, behind-the-scenes, leadership of Rita (Isabella Rossellini).
Once you get past the stylistic confidence that makes “Shut Eye” a standout original for Hulu, you’re left with a drama that really acts as a quirky character study in a world rarely explored. Who knew those random psychic storefronts you see throughout LA’s sprawl were actually run by the “Gypsy Mafia,” as the show calls it? Could this be based on actual fact? Honestly, we’re afraid to ask… And that’s part of the appeal of the series.
The blend of dark comedy and crime underworld setting feels different, yet familiar enough. Creator Les Bohem pieces together a quirky and violent tapestry of tales in the show’s freshman season that may remind some of early “Breaking Bad.” This idea makes sense when you take into account that Melissa Bernstein — producer of such TV hits as “Better Call Saul,” “Rectify,” and yes, “Breaking Bad” — is one of the executive producers behind the scenes here.
Some may feel there may be a few too many storylines in play, but in a landscape of too much television, it may simply be that Hulu is laying all its cards on the table before diving even deeper in its inevitable Season 2 return.
“Shut Eye” Season 1 is available for streaming in its entirety on Hulu.