Review: Jordan Peele and Charlie Sanders' 'Weird City' on YouTube Premium Is Slight
I don’t begrudge Charlie Sanders’s YouTube Premium series Weird City for taking a big swing, even if the series mostly misses. Created and written by Sanders and produced by Jordan Peele (Sanders was a writer on Key & Peele), Weird City is an anthology series that takes place in a future where society is divided by the “Haves” and “Have Nots,” and while visitation (and occasionally some upward mobility) is allowed, there is a distinct difference where it concerns quality of life.
So … Weird City is an anthology series that explores the socioeconomic differences between the Haves and Have Nots? No, not really, although that’s the series I was hoping to see. Weird City is more like the comedic cast-offs of Black Mirror — a series of ideas set in a futuristic world rather than fully-formed stories. Some of the ideas are interesting (some are not), and there are some great lines amid the filler, but the series can best be described as slight. The premise provides a lot with which to work, but Weird City is not particularly interested in exploring big ideas. It tries for laughs, but like Bobcat Goldthwait’s Misfits & Monsters, it’s mostly a mixed bag.
Granted, the cast is great, and easily the best reason to watch: Ed O’Neill, Rosario Dawson, LeVar Burton, Sara Gilbert, Awkwafina, Yvette Nicole Brown, Gillian Jacobs, Laverne Cox, Hannah Simone, and Steven Yeun are just some of the actors who make an appearance in Weird City, divvied up into six different stories. The first one, “The One,” is probably the best of the series. It follows two people — Ed O’Neill and Dylan O’Brien — who sign up for a matchmaking service to find their soulmates, only to discover that they’re each other’s soulmates, despite not being gay. It is cute, and O’Neil turns in a fairly remarkable performance, but even this episode doesn’t do much thematic digging.
The second episode, about Michael Cera joining a CrossFit gym and taking it way too seriously, is just weird and gross, although we do get to see Cera in another fake muscle suit. In “Go to College,” Auli’i Cravalho plays a college student who endeavors to climb into The Haves but discovers that she’s part of an experiment to create the first ever sexting baby. In “Smart House,” a smart home gets weirdly possessive of one of its occupants (Sara Gilbert) and tries to divide her and her wife (Laverne Cox). In “Chonathan & Mulia & Barsley & Phephanie,” a group of privileged above-the-liners (Yeun, Simone, Jacobs, Malcolm Barrett) steal a delivery van and kidnap a below-the-line kid away from his father because they think they’re giving him a better life. In the obnoxiously meta “Below,” Yvette Nicole Brown and Awkwafina play sentient television characters who realize that their lives will end when their show is canceled.
The ideas themselves are not all bad (except for that last one), but Charlie Sanders isn’t that interested in digging below the surface. He’s more interested in trying to mine the comedy, although that comes with very mixed results. It’s not a bad way to pass the time (and each of the 6 episodes is less than half an hour long), but it’s far from necessary viewing, and unlike Cobra Kai and Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television, the more experimental Weird City feels like it belongs on something called YouTube Premium.
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