In its quest for entertainment domination, Netflix has been dipping into a lot of different pots lately—the sci-fi realm, romantic sitcoms, topical dramas, and so on—with varying degrees of success. One of the latest additions to its collection is Easy, a series of vignettes about 20- and 30-something hipster couples living in Chicago. Each episode centers on a different household, with some minor correlation between them (the babysitter in the first episode, a minor character, is the star of the second episode, for example). In form and subject matter, it's not unlike a High Maintenance for the Midwest.
The difference between High Maintenance and Easy, however, is that the web series-turned-HBO show set in Brooklyn develops familiar and yet unique characters by parodying, exploiting, and inverting specific cultural tropes, managing to work moments of realness and genuine sentiment through very apt jokes and situational comedy. Easy, on the other hand, displays urban tropes without adding anything new, least of all, depth of character, and as such manages to be neither real nor funny. Characters include: a high-powered career mom and schlubby stay-at-home husband, vegan and vegan-aspiring lesbians, a stressed-out soon-to-be dad who starts an illegal brewery behind his wife's back, a woman who cheats on her uptight husband with her unreliable but fun ex, and so on. The characters, rather than humanized versions of the people you see in coffee shops on the daily, are just archetypes we've seen everywhere else before. There's nothing distinctly 2016 or even Chicago about them. And there's certainly nothing unexpected or fresh.
Each episode ends with the couples happily solving whatever their relationship roadblock was. In the pilot, for instance, the married couple figures out that they don't need to spice up their sex life with toys and costumes—their ability to co-parent is all they need. In the second episode, the vegan lesbian tells her new non-vegan girlfriend that she doesn't have to be vegan for them to be together, she can just be herself. The woman who cheats with her ex (in a scene that, honestly, looks more coerced than steamy, though it's not clear the filmmakers realize this) has evidently gotten all the wildcard out of her system and is ready to settle back into her boring sex life with her boring husband.
If all this sounds cheesy, it is. These trite character epiphanies are handled about as obtusely as they possibly could be. That vegan "be yourself" conversation is unfortunately pretty much on-the-nose. When the undersexed parents in the pilot make breakfast together the morning after finally having some sex, the son calls the dad over to look at something and he replies, "not right now. I'm with your mom." It's a moment that's obviously, cringingly supposed to be significant and heartwarming. Mostly, it's just awkward.
The real mystery of this show is how all this "be yourself," "make time for each other" Leave It to Beaver-esque advice got contracted for a Netflix Original anyway. The answer, in short, is that things just work out really well for white men in Hollywood. Joe Swanberg, creator and writer/director/editor of all eight episodes in the series, has made a career on pumping out one cheesy rom-com with microbudget indie aesthetics after the other (he made six features in 2011 alone), and somehow prolifically getting them into Sundance, probably due in no small part to his use of festival darling talent like Leah Dunham and Jake Johnson. His films tend to have a similar feel: some would call it mumblecore; plenty of others would just call it boring. But Swanberg's career itself says something: while hordes of daring, talented women/PoC directors are clamoring to make their second movie after even a very successful first, for some white male directors with white bread sensibilities, jumping from festival to festival to Netflix original series just sort of happens, and all by the age of 35.
Do we need more shows about quirky, urban couples navigating love and marriage in major cities? Sure, why not. But did we need another show with flat, archetypal characters and heavy-handed moral lessons? No, I'd say network television from its inception through the end of the 21st century covered that pretty well. It's fantastic that Netflix is investing in original programming the way it is, but they would do well to invest in the kind of important, diverse storytelling that put their original content on the map in the first place. Or at the very least, in good writing.