Synopsis: Tony-winner Don McKellar (The Drowsy Chaperone) created this quirky comedy that explores society’s addiction to television. McKellar stars as Curtis, who ingests dangerous levels of cathode rays, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend Hope (Molly Parker, Deadwood) and other inhabitants of his downtown home.
eyelights: Don McKellar. Callum Keith Rennie. its quirky humour. its pop culture awareness. its oddball plot elements. its throughline.
eyesores: Mark McKinney. Hope. its throughline.
“I didn’t read it, sir. I saw it on TV.”
Season Two of ‘Twitch City’ came a little over two years after its predecessor. I wish I knew what the reason behind this delay was. Did Don McKellar and Bruce McDonald have a difficult time figuring out how to follow-up the first one? Were they having problems convincing CBC execs to produce it?
Or were they too mesmerized by the glow of their TV to get out of the house?
I vote for the latter, even if it was just for research.
Either way, they were able to round up their principal cast for a second helping. However, the character dynamics had shifted substantially since the debut episode: Nathan was now in jail, and Curtis and Hope had officially become an item. That’s two levels of tension missing from the mix.
Where do you go from there?
Part of the show’s humour and appeal was that Curtis defied the odds despite his oddball behaviour, driving the most reasonable character insane, making friends and seducing a cute girl despite his misanthropic ways. Now that his behaviour has been totally normalized, what’s left?
It would have been unrealistic to carry on with Curtis renting out the spare room to another string of peculiar individuals because there only so much of this that viewers could have watched before it got stale. Plus which Hope has had time to understand Curtis and maneuver some leverage.
So, instead, McKellar returned with plot-based episodes – most of which are insular. It looks like what he and McDonald decided to do was to explore very specific scenarios (i.e. what if Curtis stopped watching TV cold turkey…) and then tied it together with a semi-continuous thread.
This series features seven episodes:
1. The Return of the Cat Food Killer: The second season opener focuses on Nathan. In jail, he’s under the protection of a huge psychotic goon named Paul. After he starts a small riot by shutting off the TV, to prevent everyone from watching his disastrous interview on The Rex Reilly Show again, it’s suggested that he redirect his energy to running for Cell Block Captain. This pits him against a mob boss; the deck is stacked against him. Except that Paul is on his side, brutalizing secretly. But Paul is being released soon, and he misunderstands Nathan’s response when he asks if he should kill Curtis for him. Curtis will soon find Paul at his doorstep.
This one’s better than I remembered, but it’s completely different: Hope has a couple of awkward visits with Nathan, but we only get a quick glimpse of Curtis. Apparently it’s a spoof of ‘OZ’ (I had no idea). There’s a priceless opening bit with Nathan’s cellmate doing a spoken word bit in extreme close-ups. It’s pretty good, but Nathan disapproves and recommends a book of Leonard Cohen’s poetry for the guy to up his game. Ha! And the whole campaign is pretty funny, culminating with Nathan introducing the job wheel. Nice! Watch for Hugh Dillon as a Hannibal Lecter-type character who presents himself as candidate for Cell Block Captain. 7.75
2. Shinto Death Cults: Hope’s dad is coming to visit her; he’s conservative and she’s worried that he and Curtis won’t get along. Curtis commits to shutting off the T.V. and Hope hears from newbie that Curtis is doing a cleansing (which he amusingly calls “Pon farr”). He explains the whole process (“The Falling” and “The Crash”) and helps them get through it by burning their TV Guide and hiding the remotes. Curtis goes catatonic, twitches, screams, …etc. His screams drive out their fragile roommate. Three days later, he’s clean – just in time to meet dad.
I really like the idea behind this one, that Curtis’ TV addiction can be treated like a drug addiction, and there are some terrific moments (like quoting ‘The Flintstones’ and ‘Three’s Company’ in his delirium), but the cast dynamics seem a bit off – particularly because of Kenneth Welsh as Hope’s dad. Not only is the character a hardcase, but Welsh plays him gruff, unlikable. And Curtis’ reaction to him is just so stupid that it’s beyond belief. I mean, I know that he’s hopelessly socially autistic, but… man! Great idea for an episode, though. 7.5
3. Klan Bake: Hope is unhappy with the roomies that Curtis gets so she decides to take on the task. She’s a colour consultant in a paint shop and, when two guys walk in asking about faux finishes, she thinks they’re gay and rents them the room. But they’re actually white supremacists and her boss is their leader. She can’t evict them, so she ends up with a Neo Nazi rally in their flat. Meanwhile, Curtis takes advantage of a sweet elderly Meals On Wheels worker who rings his place by mistake. He gets not only meals but has her read to him, clean, …etc.
Firstly, I love the concept: it’s original and funny. I like that Hope mistakes white supremacists for gays, because those are usually polar opposite lifestyles. I really like that “faux finishes” is their password. So silly. And I liked that Curtis actually confronts their leader at the end, showing the group an embarrassing episode of The Rex Reilly Show that the leader was on. After everyone departs, disgusted with him, Curtis suggests to his two roomies that they should try Satanism instead. Ha! I also found the Meals On wheels lady adorable. 7.75
4. People Who Don’t Care About Anything: Though he’d disappeared for two episodes, Paul returns to rent the attic “room”. He begins to set up the apartment to murder Curtis, which freaks the heck out of Clinton, their other roomie. But Curtis is too busy “working on the relationship” with Hope: she brought a tape called ‘Loving it Up’, which he thinks is porn, but is actually a new agey relationship advice programme. Eventually, it all comes to a head with a showdown between Curtis and Paul.
For some reason, this one just doesn’t come together. Though the idea of the “Loving it Up” tape distracting Curtis and Hope long enough for Paul to set the stage is amusing, the outcome isn’t satisfying. For starters it’s hard to understand why Paul is taking so much time setting up, pacing around the attic, …etc. The frenzy at the end is kind of funny, though, and I love how scared Clinton is. But the actor playing him isn’t very good. And then we’re stuck with Rex Reilly at the end. It’s a mixed bag. 7.5
5. The Planet of the Cats: Hope is off to the store to get food after Lucky woke her up. She discovers that the store has only a small human food section; everything else is cat stuff. Even the money has cats on it. She’s confused. Newbie knows something but is secretive. He gets her to join him in the store basement later that evening, where he explains how the cats took over. He also introduces her to the resistance. Sadly, their leader, Dizelle, is on trial. So they plan a rescue, using the cats’ most dreaded deterrent: water bottles. Obviously it’s a dream, but whose?
This is probably the strongest episode of the lot because of its surrealist humour. I love that Curtis is wearing a collar and tag, like a cat, and that he’s happy with the way cats run things. Newbie’s explanation made no sense whatsoever, but it riffed on ‘The Planet of the Apes‘ and he made his speech in a Shatner-esque speech pattern. Ha! Hope at one point makes an analogy with the relationship between cats and human and Curtis and her. Fitting. There’s tons of great bits, but it’s marred by a really crappy ($#!t budget, music, …etc.) rescue sequence. 7.75
6. The Life of Reilly: Curtis is responding to his fanmail and finds an interview request from Faith, a Master’s student. He agrees to it, and she basically moves in to watch her subject in his environment. Meanwhile, Hope is taking cake-making lessons. The situation puts a strain on their relationship because he’s attracted to Faith and she’s attracted to her teacher; poor decisions are made. It leads to a catfight between Hope and Faith. Yes, a catfight. Ugh.
This isn’t a bad episode, but it’s neither especially funny or quirky. In fact, it feels trite – particularly since Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Faith: she played a stalker roomie in ‘Single White Female’. It’s typecasting. Everyone’s excellent in it, but both Hope and Curtis are pathetic here. I have no idea how their relationship can bounce back from being on the brink here. The episode ends with Faith throwing a Molotov cocktail at the house, but it’s never followed-up on. !@#$ 7.25
7. Angels All Week: Hope is just sitting around, unwilling to get yet another meaningless job. Curtis is worried about the rent now that Hope isn’t working – even though he rented most of the apartment to a Portuguese family. They move out to her dad’s place. He’s happy there: he’s got a large-screen TV, is fed in abundance, and he doesn’t have to do anything. But Hope doesn’t like her dad’s girlfriend, Wendy. Curtis has to choose between her and his newfound life.
In many ways, this is a fitting conclusion to the season and it mirrors the last season’s closing episode very nicely. But I just couldn’t buy into the idea that everything hinged on Hope working. Really? How could Curtis rent everything yet not be able to pay rent? There are good bits, though, like Curtis having to leave the house (Since he’s unable to, Newbie gives him sleeping pills. He wakes up in front of a large projection TV). And her dad’s screaming sex is a riot. 7.25
I very much like this second season, but the biggest problem for me is the character dynamics, which have understandably changed since the first one. Nathan is largely absent, and Molly is more bohemian, a bit of a loser, really (Did Curtis have an effect on her? Or was she always this way?).
I quite enjoyed the balance struck in the first season but this is something’s that’s shifted – even though Curtis hasn’t changed that much (mind you, this softened version would be unlikely to resentfully scream out “Clumpy milk!!!”). The characters now intermingle in more traditional ways.
Basically, Curtis and Hope’s relationship is central now.
Then there’s the smaller frequency of cameos, which originally peppered the series (they were brief, but notable). And Mark McKinney takes over for Bruce McCulloch as Rex Reilly here, playing him as obnoxious instead of smarmy, giving him a grating fake British accent; he’s no longer amusing.
For good or bad, Season Two is pretty different from Season One: it spoofs specific movies and TV shows, which is fun, but it’s goofier and less acerbic. There’s also a greater attempt at continuity but it doesn’t quite deliver, which is disappointing once invest yourself in the plotline.
Ultimately, it’s like a new version of ‘Twitch City’; it’s fun, but not quite the same deal: it’s less about renting to oddballs, and dealing with the outcome. But there are some interesting concepts along the way; it certainly doesn’t lack for creativity and laughs. It’s just not quite as quirky.
Dates of viewings: November 28-29, 2017