3:00 pm EDT, February 17, 2019

‘Weird City’ review: An eccentric ‘Black Mirror’ from Jordan Peele and YouTube

If you like Black Mirror, there’s no guarantee you’ll also enjoy Weird City, but the two shows do share some similarities.

Weird City comes from the minds of Jordan Peele (Get Out) and Charlie Sanders (Key and Peele). It’s an anthology series with a star-studded cast that depicts “the life and people living in a futuristic town called Weird.”

And in case you didn’t get the message from the title: yes, this show is strange.

It has many of the hallmarks of Black Mirror. It takes place in the not-so-distant future where the world is not quite the same but not so different, either. It usually heavily features technology and often focuses on the moral implications of the choices we make in our daily lives. There’s usually a lesson to be learned, and it’s often not a happy one.

But if Black Mirror is a dark warning sign not to forget our humanity, Weird City is a bright, flashing neon light that pokes fun at us while also reminding us we’re probably doomed.

I will admit that Weird City is a difficult show to put in a box. The first episode, titled “The One,” is surprisingly hopeful, while episode 2, “A Family,” makes you want to lock your doors and never trust anyone ever again. These are the only two episodes not currently behind a paywall (you need YouTube Premium to watch the rest), but it’s not difficult to believe subsequent episodes will be just as uncanny.

One of the show’s biggest pulls is the cast. Not only is this series backed by Jordan Peele, but it stars some of our favorite actors, like Dylan O’Brien, Ed O’Neill, LeVar Burton, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Awkwafina, Yvette Nicole Brown, Laverne Cox, Alui’i Cravalho, Hannah Simone, and Steven Yeun, just to name a few.

Each of the characters in the show can be separated into two distinct categories — Below The Line and Above The Line. The Line separates the city in half. People Below are the Have Nots while people above are the Haves. It’s not hard to figure out who’s who or what the show is trying to tell us with this obvious depiction of classism, but the absurdity is part of the show’s charm.

In the first episode, “The One,” O’Brien’s character Stu was born Below The Line, but thanks to his mother’s app invention, they moved Above The Line and found themselves a part of the elite. When you’re born Above, you’re assigned a partner for life, but if you moved there from Below, you’re relegated to mandatory dating.

When Stu sees a commercial for a service called The One That’s The One, he’s intrigued. He won’t have to suffer through anymore awkward dates, and, because science, he’ll be assigned a perfect match just like if he’d been born Above The Line.

Hilarity ensues, of course, thanks to, in part, LeVar Burton’s clumsy scientist character, and Stu is matched up with an older man, played by Ed O’Neill. They both laugh at the situation at first, and agree to go their separate ways, but one simple meal together shows them how much they have in common.

O’Brien carries the episode, not only because we see this sequence of events from his point of view, but because it’s truly a return to comedy for him. He might not be relying as much on his physical comedy as he did when he was playing Stiles Stilinski on Teen Wolf, but after films such as The Maze Runner and American Assassin, it’s nice to see him go back to his roots.

Though O’Brien deserves to be praised for his subtle and quietly comedic mannerisms, it’s his relationship with Ed O’Neill’s Burt that makes or breaks the episode. Though the age difference and the fact that neither one of them thought they were gay makes for some unconventional moments, this is where the episode shines. It’s meant to be confronting, though in a much less aggressive manner than you would see from Black Mirror.

But where episode 1 leaves us with a feel-good afterglow, episode 2 ends on a much darker note. This episode stars Michael Cera as a social outcast who’s just looking for a family. You want to empathize with his character because he’s likely got a multitude of mental illnesses that obviously make it hard to connect with people, but at the same time, he’s extremely unlikable. All he wants to do is fit in, but he has a habit of alienating everyone around him.

Rosario Dawson plays a trainer at ShapeCult, an obvious dig at CrossFit and their cult-like mentality. Cera’s Tawny thinks he finds a new family at the gym, but as he begins to infiltrate every corner of the business, Dawson’s Delt becomes increasingly more uncomfortable with his continued presence.

Again, Weird City aims to make you laugh and feel slightly uncomfortable at the same time. This episode is much less happy, and perhaps even a little problematic, in comparison to the first. But that’s kind of the point. Just as it is with Black Mirror, we’re meant to recognize the possibility of what we’re seeing on screen, but be reassured that at least we’re not yet to that point.

And in the case of Weird City, we’re supposed to laugh at the absurdity while recognizing that this future, while unlikely, reflects real issues back at us in a more colorful, entertaining, and easily digestible way.

Weird City is available via YouTube. The first two episodes are free, while the final four come when you purchase a subscription to YouTube Premium.

Our Score

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