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Dark Comedy Series Wastes Patricia Arquette

May 12, 2023


Humor is the perfect tool to disarm people and make them reflect on the absurdity of everyday existence, which explains why dark comedies have become some of the most vital productions in the last decade. However, for a dark comedy to succeed, it must find the right balance between laughing at tragedy and showing the humanity of its characters. Unfortunately, the Apple TV+ series High Desert misses the mark twice, delivering an end product that mostly fails to make us laugh or care about its characters.

High Desert takes the audience to the desert landscapes of Yucca Valley, where the drug-addicted Peggy (Patricia Arquette) decides to become a private investigator after her mother’s (Bernadette Peters) passing. Right off the bat, the series promises to explore Peggy’s past and present, retracing the steps that led to her addiction and showing how her dangerous relationship with drugs impacts her relationships with everyone around her. Sadly, High Desert only approaches its main themes on a surface level. Yes, Peggy’s addiction will spread chaos throughout her life, harming her friends, family, and anyone unlucky enough to cross her path. However, the series never takes the time to explore what makes her tick. As a result, Arquette’s talents go wasted.
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Image via Apple TV+

RELATED: Patricia Arquette Is Lost in the ‘High Desert’ in First Image

Since High Desert is determined to show how chaotic Peggy’s life can be, the series quickly puts its lead character in the middle of a murder investigation connected to art fraud and the mafia. Furthermore, while Peggy begins a rushed journey to become a PI, she still keeps her day job as an actress at an Old West theme park. High Desert also has to navigate Peggy’s past as a drug dealer, the death of her mother, and her complicated relationship with her siblings. And since the series is only made up of eight half-hour episodes, there’s simply not enough time to tie everything together, allow Peggy to grow, and still make us care about the fate of the dozens of one-dimensional characters constantly crossing the screen.

Saying High Desert is bloated would be a euphemism. The series rarely gives the audience time to breathe before introducing another side plot or nodding at a complex character backstory it never explains. And as we get closer to the finishing line, it becomes clear there won’t be any satisfying ending for the many stories that the show is trying to tell at the same time. So, instead, High Desert just comes to an abrupt stop. A cliffhanger might be an excellent way to tease there’s more to come, but in this case, it just feels like the writers were also puzzled about how to wrap everything up — so they just stopped, turned off the lights, and left this problem to be solved in a future that might not exist. There’s nothing wrong in leaving viewers wanting more, but by the end of High Desert’s first season, we are still too close to the starting line for anything to matter.

Image via Apple TV+

While the lack of meaningful drama doesn’t help High Desert to stand out in the crowded streaming game, the series’ biggest sin might be its lack of comedic timing. Some brilliant moments show how funny the show’s concept can be, mainly in High Desert’s first and last episodes — but most of the time, Peggy’s story twists and turns without regard for logic, betting on several deus ex machinas to keep its unstable castle of cards from falling. Peggy’s incredible detective skills are just stated as a fact instead of being linked to her backstory — and similarly, every character in High Desert is as gullible or smart as each episode needs them to be, which lessens the possible comedic effects of some of the series’ surprises. Absurdist comedy derives from shattering expectations, but when a story doesn’t have a cohesive internal logic, it’s hard to be surprised by any attempt at subversion. Instead, a string of seemingly random events is rudely stitched together so that Peggy can keep investigating her big murder case.

There are redeeming aspects in High Desert that make us curious about what a second season could look like. The production value is a highlight with technical departments working hard to bring the unusual scenarios where the story takes place to life, especially in the Old West theme park. Furthermore, Arquette is not the only talented actor trying to leave a good impression, with Matt Dillon deserving particular praise. Even so, while the whole cast of High Desert does what they can to elevate the show, there’s only so much even the most competent actor can do when the material they have to work with is this weak.

Rating: C-

The first three episodes of High Desert premiere May 17 on Apple TV+, with new episodes releasing weekly.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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