Created by newcomer Lisa Rubin, with a pilot and other episodes directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson ("Fifty Shades of Grey"), "Gypsy" is one of those psychological thrillers, like Alfred Hitchcock's "Spellbound" or Brian De Palma's "Dressed to Kill," that features a psychologist as a central character.
"There's one force more powerful than free will," we're told at the top of the series, as if on the first day of Psych 101. "Our unconscious."
Watts plays Jean Holloway, a behavioral therapist with a solid practice and a big, furnished-from-a-catalog house in the commuter-train suburbs she shares with husband Michael (Billy Crudup), a workaholic lawyer, and their 9-year-old daughter Dolly (Maren Heary). Dolly is what used to be called a tomboy — but it's all different now.
That something is up with Jean is hinted at early on — she steals some pages off a friend's prescription pad, boosts pills from another's medicine cabinet. But these quirks of her behavior are buried before long in quirkier behavior as she inserts herself into the life of Sidney (Sophie Cookson), the ex-girlfriend of current client Sam (Karl Glusman). Sidney works as a barista at a place called the Rabbit Hole, as in the thing you go down when you're Alice (Destination: Wonderland), and sings in a rock band, which makes her seem cool and dangerous.
"I don't know what it is about you but you have this intangible quality that I can't place," Jean (calling herself Diane) tells Sidney.
Sam remains obsessed with Sidney, and it seems possible at times that Jean has professional (if technically unprofessional) motives for spying on her, that she cares too much about fixing people. In accompanying story lines, we see that she has boundary issues, even with clients she is treating for boundary issues.
On the other hand, might this be a story of escaping the humdrum routine of a settled-for life and the stereotypical neighbor ladies out in stultifying upper-crust suburbia, a humdrum story in itself? The partly smoked pack of cigarettes she keeps hidden in the closet like a totem from a past life, and the lyrics to Fleetwood Mac's "Gypsy," a fine new recording of which by Stevie Nicks serves as the series' theme song, seem to say so.
Or is it a cautionary tale about acting on impulse? Or of the tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive? Characters are forever speaking about secrets and lies, games and stories, surface and subtext — some actually play Truth or Dare — in case your mind wanders from that point.
There is something to be said for a mainstream thriller in which all the major players are women. A sort of mirror plot involving Michael and his assistant, played by Melanie Liburd, helps to delineate his character and lets us know that Jean has a jealous streak but is almost completely without interest on its own merits.
And there are some nice performances here — Watts is watchable from moment to moment, whatever she's being asked to say, and for some viewers 10 episodes worth of the actress will be reason enough to invest the time. Cookson's Sidney is not quite the modern Lulu she seems to suggest, but she has a certain radiance and a relaxed air that a series so packed with desperation desperately needs. And it's good to see Brenda Vaccaro as one of Jean's clients, and Blythe Danner as her mother.
But there is a reason that psychological thrillers do not, as a rule, last nine hours and change. You can only twist reality so many times before a viewer stops caring what's real. (Clarification is forthcoming, if you last.)
Almost nothing about "Gypsy" feels authentic. One could argue, I suppose, that that's the point, that life is performance, and that "Vertigo" was hardly a work of great naturalism. Yet even the most casual interchange here feels fraught with danger and hidden meaning, and it becomes weighty after a while. Tiring of the drama in a drama is never good.
When: Any time, starting Friday
Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)
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