** (out of ****)
Hulu and Netflix shows are fun to review because I can use the amount of shows I watch in a row as a determinate to how good they are. I’m typically very happy when there’s only one terrible episode of a network show to review, because most of them are so stinky, but with online “channels,” I can stop whenever I want. It turns out this isn’t the best gauge, however, as Deadbeat isn’t the worst show I’ve ever reviewed – it might not even be a bad show – but I couldn’t wait for the first episode to be over, much less watch more of the nine other episodes that were available to me. Well, fuck. Now I have to come up with other shit to say about the show.
When a show has character issues, we usually think that means it has no characters, or its characters are all two-dimensional. This is a problem, obviously, but it’s not a solution to make your characters (or in this case, character) three dimensional by giving him the same hacky traits and line-delivery-methods, that we were tired of five years ago. I don’t mind that Deadbeat‘s budget is obviously low, or they don’t have a ton of money to spend on special effects. I expect it when I go to watch a show produced for a website. But that does put a little more emphasis on the things that you can make better for free, like tighter scripts, better jokes, and a fresher lead performance. That, I do expect, at least if you’re going to get me to watch more than one.
Deadbeat tells the story of Kevin, an overweight-slacker-loser-pothead-tells-it-like-it-is-tactless-rude-but-still-sweet-when-he-needs-to-be. He plays one of the most cliched character tropes of our time: Stoner with a Heart of Gold. The trope doesn’t need to smoke weed, he (almost always a he) just needs to display the sort of ambition and worldview that a stereotypical movie/TV stoner would. So this show is Stoner with a Heart of Gold is also a medium who can see ghosts and help them with whatever bullshit they need to do to get our purgatory and get to heaven. So it’s not a premise we’ve necessarily seen before, but it is a character we’ve seen a billion times placed in a scenario we’ve seen a billion times.
Kevin is played by Tyler Labine, who comes with his own fanbase, thanks to Dale and Tucker Vs Evil, and to lesser extent, Reaper. And to a much, much lesser extent, Animal Practice. And throughout all of these roles, Labine has probably worked up something of a go-to persona. Unfortunately, there’s not enough go-to in the basket, yet, and it feels too much like a character we’ve seen before, and have long since grown tired of. I’m not saying this entire trope needs to be thrown out, but Labine needs to, either through improv or the script, find ways to tweak Kevin. His persona can even stay in tact. Typically with things like this, Kevin = Tyler, and Tyler = Kevin, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Tyler Labine could be the most boring person in the world, but that doesn’t matter to us. We’re not watching Tyler, we’re watching Kevin.
It’s not that the plotlines, or little “missions” that Kevin has to go on each episode, are bad. It’s that the showrunners don’t care about them. That’s not the story they want to tell. They want to have a guy that they think is funny interact with wacky characters, and make a show that gets you to laugh out loud. And that’s fine. The missions don’t have to be the most interesting part of the show. But what that means is that Tyler and the writers have less time to get this character and these laughs figured out. And just because all ten episodes were placed on Hulu at the same time, don’t think that means that they didn’t have time to figure it out. Don’t think that the only way people can get better at their jobs is if they have dicks on the internet yelling complaints at them every week. It’s still totally possible, even without your help.
- Ryan Haley