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Netflix's "What/If" Proves That Art Is Dead

"What/If" is an outright attack on creative people and all their struggles to make worthwhile art. It's also really fun.

Netflix's What/If transcends the good-bad spectrum.

What/If has spawned countless reviews, articles, and think pieces, all trying to parse some iota of sense from a TV show that seems purposely designed to be terrible. It's not exactly so-bad-it's-good, because that implies an earnestness of intent and What/If clearly does not hold itself to any conceivable standard. And yet, What/If is just on the cusp of being generic enough to gaslight a viewer into believing that maybe, possibly, someone at some stage of production thought they were making an unironic TV drama, as opposed to an absolute dumpster fire of a show.

But that's probably not the case. If anything, when Netflix ordered What/If to series, their goal was clear as day: to take a massive dump on anyone who has ever wanted to work in television and failed to achieve their dreams.

Every year, thousands of eager, fresh-faced young hopefuls make their way out to Los Angeles in hopes of becoming the next great actor, writer, director, etc. Most of them quickly grow jaded as they come face-to-face with the limits of their own talents and the hierarchical crapshoot nature of Hollywood. Many fail, regardless of talent. So they move back home to their parents' houses with their glossy reels and their dusty scripts and say, "I tried my best, but I just couldn't cut it."

Then Netflix releases What/If, a series so ridiculously stupid that it boggles the mind. From the opening shots of psychotic, gazillionaire investor Anne Montgomery (Renée Zellweger) pruning a tree as she recites Ayn Randian garble about morality, What/If is a special breed of awful. The dialogue is inhuman, so overwritten and on-the-nose that it's laughable. The sets look cheap. Even the camera work is terrible, featuring strange close-ups of characters' faces, poor angle choices, and cheesy zooms. What/If feels like watching a lost soap opera from the early 2000s, except that's unnecessarily insulting towards all the people who work on soap operas.

By the time What/If forces you to witness a chimp-faced man with a '90s haircut dance around a bedroom in his underwear and a torn Backstreet Boys t-shirt, you must know on some level that this show is an elaborate joke. But is that the punchline, or are you?

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Anyone who has ever tried to make it in a creative field knows the blood, sweat, and tears that go into making art. Directors break scenes apart from every possible angle to determine the best course of action to tell a given story. Writers craft draft after draft, tweaking dialogue and structure until every scene is just right. Actors perform take after take, becoming one with the mind of their characters.

And yet, here stands What/If, a show wherein the characters talk incessantly about playing psychological chess with one another yet continue to be surprised when their opponents do something dirty.

Thousands of scripts, hundreds of thousands of hours of work, sit unread on laptop hard drives. Talented actors grow old without ever catching their break. Great indie shorts go unwatched on no-name YouTube channels.

And yet, here stands What/If, a show in which a man claims he has a dad bod before revealing chiseled six-pack abs, as if even the casting director wanted to give the middle finger to the audience.

Indeed, What/If is a big middle finger to anyone who has ever worked hard on a piece of art and failed to see their creation thrive. What/If is proof that talent doesn't matter and that quality is irrelevant. What/If is a creative wasteland devoid of talent and vision, and the fact that it's so fun to watch makes all your failures that much more bitter.

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