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TV Review: Room 104 - Season 2

HBO, Room 104, TV Review, Michael Shannon, Mark Duplass, Mahershela Ali, Drama, Horror, Comedy, TV

SYNOPSIS:  From creators and executive producers Mark and Jay Duplass, the show tells a different story of the assorted characters who stay in the room in each episode, ranging from dark comedy and horror to poignant drama and musical romance. Filled with twists and surprises, ROOM 104 offers a new discovery from one episode to the next, telling tales of everyday people striving for connection and meaning inside a single room. 

HBO, Room 104, TV Review, Michael Shannon, Mark Duplass, Mahershela Ali, Drama, Horror, Comedy, TVREVIEW: The anthology format has returned to popularity on television in the last decade primarily thanks to American Horror Story. But, many contemporary anthologies take the season long format rather than a unique story each week. Mark and Jay Duplass' Room 104 takes the latter approach where each episode is a self-contained story united by a singular setting. When HBO premiered the series in 2017, the twelve stories presented ran the gamut from hilarious to bizarre, heartfelt to terrifying. By opening themselves up to experimenting with stories, unencumbered by any restrictions outside of the single room setting, the Duplass brothers created something wholly unique compared to anything else on television. If you missed it, I encourage you to binge the entire first season. While you don't need to have seen any episode to jump into the upcoming second season, seeing the first twelve episodes prepares you to expect anything because this new run of twelve episodes somehow pushes the format even further.

During it's first season, Room 104 delivered some truly terrific performances from James Van Der Beek, Orlando Jones, Karan Soni, Nat Wolff, and the most heart-wrenching of all from Philip Baker Hall. There was music, period pieces, mystery, lots of humor, and even more drama. An episode was helmed by CAPTAIN MARVEL directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck but most of the heavy lifting came from writer Mark Duplass and director Ross Partridge. Partridge and Duplass return to write and direct multiple episodes of the second season and are joined by directors So Yong Kim, Natalie Morales, Lila Neugebauer, Josephine Decker, Liza Johnson, and Julian Wass. On the acting side, the roster is even deeper with Mahershela Ali, Michael Shannon, Rainn Wilson, Katie Aselton, Bryan Tyree Henry, Dolly Wells, Judy Greer, and Charlyne Yi.

With bigger names, you would expect that maybe the series would stretch itself outside of the formula it created, but Room 104 stays firmly within the confines of that single set. In binging all twelve episodes, I found myself to enjoy this season far more than the first even if no single episode hits quite the same dramatic highs as the first season finale. In fact, there seems to be much more of a bend towards horror this season. I do use the horror genre as a very catch-all term as these episodes range from supernatural to disgusting to downright disturbing. The first episode follows a birthday celebration that turns very awkward while the second episode starring Rainn Wilson has multiple twists that you will never see coming. After that, things start to get even crazier with plots I won't divulge here as you will have to see them to believe them. Let's just say if you have ever wanted to see Michael Shannon perform a rap with a Russian accent, this season delivers.

What makes Room 104 so damn good is that it doesn't have to stretch itself for a feature length run time or spread itself over multiple episodes. Each story fits neatly within the thirty minute window and tells a fully realized story. You can watch any of these twelve episodes (or both seasons together) in any random order which only changes how you view the mysterious motel and their amazing housekeeping staff. Mark Duplass deserves a massive amount of credit for writing such a varied mix of stories which share a lot in common with his feature film output over the years, especially CREEP, BAGHEAD, CYRUS, and his previous HBO series Togetherness. The series has a magical realism in some episodes that doesn't even require suspension of disbelief because you are so drawn into the stories and characters. 

HBO, Room 104, TV Review, Michael Shannon, Mark Duplass, Mahershela Ali, Drama, Horror, Comedy, TV

Like one-act plays, Room 104 is all about the performances. As they do in virtually every project they take part in, the standouts this season are Michael Shannon and Mahershela Ali. Both actors have had long and acclaimed careers and their roles on this season could not be more different than what they have done before but still encapsulate why they are such brilliant actors. Rainn Wilson and Natalie Morales also turn in very strong roles that will completely catch you off guard when you see them. There are also episodes, like "Hungry", that feature actors like Mark Proksch whom you have likely seen on several other television series and who get the chance to showcase themselves as part of an ensemble telling a very unusual story.

Like any series, some episodes of Room 104 are a lot stronger than others, but the overall collection is as good a mix of tales as you would get from Black Mirror or vintage Twilight Zone. As an exercise in creativity, Room 104 serves as an outlet for the brainstorms that Mark Duplass has rattling around in his mind but may not work as feature films. As great as Duplass has been for this series, I hope future seasons showcase as wide a writing staff as they have with directors. HBO may have found an incubator for the next wave of top tier writers and directors who can use Room 104 as a safe space to stretch their talents. As it is, this show is a treat for any viewer looking for something off the beaten path that will deliver laughs, scares, and tears all from one series.

Room 104 premieres November 9th on HBO.

Source: JoBlo.com

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