This article contains information that could be considered too revealing according to our spoiler policy. Proceed with caution. You can't unsee it!Reason The whole season premieres on Hulu at midnight eastern December 7; we got screeners.
Should Your Future Include Hulu's Shut Eye?
Short answer: no.
What Is This Thing?
It's a one-hour caper/black comedy series about a fake psychic who accidentally finds himself with real powers.
When Is It On?
Hulu drops the full ten-episode season December 7.
Why Was It Made Now?
TV people gotta eat too.
What's Its Pedigree?
Created by Les Bonem (Extant), the show's cast includes Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice; FX's Fargo), KaDee Strickland (Private Practice), Angus Sampson (Fargo again), and David Zayas (Dexter; Gotham).
One of the advantages to Peak TV is that all the additional channels invite -- perhaps even require -- explorations into aspects of American life that have sometimes been excluded from the mainstream of American experience. We have a wider range of opportunities to learn about people we might never meet, and gain new understanding into lives we might never lead and worlds we might never visit. Or, we could watch Shut Eye.
To back up a bit: the "hero" of this "piece" is Charlie Haverford (Donovan). He scrapes a meager living as a work-from-home psychic, using his above-average observational skills and knowledge of human nature to fleece credulous Los Angelenos of their hard-earned cash. He's also responsible for managing a handful of other storefront psychic shops around town. But he's not exactly raking it in, because he has to hand over most of his earnings to a fellow named Fonzo. We'll come back to Fonzo in a minute.
Charlie's already unsatisfactory existence runs into three major bumps right in the pilot. First, his loose cannon of a younger sister Sylvia -- also working as a psychic -- runs afoul of Fonzo and his people by playing an unapproved scam, and Charlie is forced to watch her undergo a cruel punishment. Secondly, one of the boyfriends Charlie is always warning his clients about tracks down Charlie and fractures his skull for him. And thirdly, Gina -- a hypnotist Charlie's interviewing for a slot in his stable -- deploys her skills on him. Which may or may not prove less relevant to Charlie than the secret affair Charlie's wife Linda almost immediately initiates with Gina.
So it's not really a surprise when Charlie's brain-scrambling day ends with some pretty disorienting sensory experiences. Check it out, the fake psychic is having real visions now! WoOOooOOooh! Between that, his anger at his bosses over Sylvia, and Linda's vocal frustration with his lack of ambition, Charlie manages to find the wherewithal to go after a whale of a mark. Of course, Fonzo will kill Charlie if he ever finds out, so the idea is for Fonzo never to find out. While we can probably guess how that's going to go, this theoretically has the makings of an interesting story.
It's blatantly racist.
Charlie's a modern-day psychic with a neon sign in the window, but how far removed is he from the popular image of the gypsy fortune teller at her crystal ball? Not far at all, because the aforementioned Fonzo is the head of a large and powerful Romani family. Repulsive both physically and morally, Fonzo introduces himself to the viewer with a lengthy version of the Romani crucifixion myth about the reason God gave his people the right to steal. Beyond that, Fonzo has all the typical characteristics of a movie crime boss: grasping, cruel, and obsessed with control and retribution, with a few disgusting personal habits passing for what fills out his character. While Fonzo runs the day-to-day, the real power seems to be wielded by his mother Rita (Isabella Rossellini, of all people), who is more refined but certainly even more dangerous than Fonzo is. And of course they're supported by a small army of interchangeably swarthy men who deck themselves out with more money than taste.
So those are the bad guys who are unfairly keeping Charlie down. They're so viciously protective of their turf in the paranormal customer service industry that Charlie has to work with them or not at all.
Here's the thing. I am the opposite of an expert in the many variations of Romani culture, in their stories and traditions. And of course my ignorance is nobody's fault but my own, because I came by most of my knowledge of them, (and just about everything else) from popular culture. Given that, I would have appreciated a show that featured a thoughtful exploration of even one real Romani character instead of a monster. I'm not sure I would have trusted such a depiction, but I would have liked to see an attempt. Instead, Shut Eye represents an entire culture as scary, exotic. As other. Romani are shown as deeply distrustful of outsiders (Gadje, as Fonzo calls them), perpetuating the cycle of dehumanization that makes them seem so insular and removed in the first place. It's a major disservice to everyone, particularly those who identify as Romani.
And all of this would be bad enough if we weren't also being asked to root against them for the handsome, WASPy, straight-backed Charlie. Poor guy's just trying to make a living, after all (by the way, are his superstitious clients predominantly people of color? You know it). Of course, when Charlie's son quite reasonably asks him why he can't have a job where people don't shoot at his house, Charlie doesn't have an answer. And rather than exploring that, he instead cultivates an alliance with a client, Eduardo, who has turned out also to be a local gangland figure. Charlie figures that Eduardo and his people could be powerful protection against Fonzo and his, and he's probably right. Because what white guy ever went wrong playing two other ethnicities against each other?
Look, I would have no objection to several elements of the show on their own. I confess to being interested in how Charlie's long con against a rich business widow will play out, because Jeffrey Donovan's ability to sell his character's shoestring resourcefulness on Burn Notice was always so convincing and watchable. Charlie and Linda's kid Nick, despite being prone to the kind of bad decision-making endemic to all TV teenagers, is refreshingly sweet rather than tiresomely sullen. And I'm not minding Susan Misner as Dr. White (!), Charlie's potential manic pixie dream neurologist. But none of that is nearly enough to get me past the blatant depictions of ethnic stereotypes.
Now wait a minute, you might say. Didn't The Sopranos also trade in those kinds of stereotypes? Well, sure it did. But at least it was from the point of view of characters who were clearly part of that specific subculture, while making it clear they didn't represent the whole ethnic group. So now imagine if the main character of The Sopranos had been some blue-eyed Aryan trying to get out from under their malevolent influence, and if Tony's journeys of introspection took place not through therapy but by sniffing his own toejam. You'd have Shut Eye with Italian-Americans.
I can still remember, only a handful of months ago, when fresh stories of discrimination and ignorance (or "political incorrectness," as some would style it) used to come across social media with some tag along the lines of "Can you believe this is still happening in 2016?" Unfortunately, "2016" carries a very different connotation now, and Shut Eye fits that new ethos all too well. I am in absolutely no mood for it.
When a show is offensive enough that even I can't identify with a tall, dark-haired, forty-something white guy named Jeff? Hard pass.