Review: Joe Swanberg goes to Netflix with all-star ‘Easy’


Joe Swanberg, a busy bee who has put the indie in independent filmmaker – he completed seven features in 2010 alone – turns to television this week as the creator, director and writer of the Netflix series “Easy.” A naturalistic comedy of modern manners set among the young, less young and undeniably middle-aged people of Chicago, it’s another basket of goodies turned up on the doorstep in a fall season barely started yet already full of them.

Temperamentally, in its artful naturalism and emphasis on character or event – on the events that character creates, one might say – it sits companionably alongside such other new, personal, low-concept sitcoms as “Atlanta,” “Better Things” and “High Maintenance,” with which it shares a short-story anthology form. Two of its eight episodes have a linked narrative; all the others, though they may share some characters, go their own narrative way.

With their long, loose, semi-improvised scenes and slow-to-focus narratives, there is a certain luxuriousness (some might say aimlessness) to Swanberg’s movies, from early shoestring projects like “LOL” and “Hannah Takes the Stairs,” which introduced Greta Gerwig, to more recent productions, like the 2013 “Drinking Buddies,” with its million-dollar budget and name cast. Television, of course, has the potential to stretch a single story over many hours, even years; the venue would allow the director to work in even longer, looser scenes than are his custom, to delay their payoffs indefinitely.


But he’s gone the other way here, getting in and out of a story in about 30 minutes, distilling and concentrating and amplifying what’s good in his films – their unflinching intimacy, their nonjudgmental interest in people and how they strive and fail and succeed, break apart and come together. That their crises are life-sized and challenges ordinary do not make them any less compelling or rich.

Many of Swanberg’s subjects are artists or entrepreneurs, or the people who support them, with different levels of success. (The series has a semi-bohemian milieu, sort of like “Treme” with snow.) They work, they date, they drink, they get sick, they laugh, they argue (quietly for the most part), they care for kids, they have sex.

The sex, and there is a fair amount of it here, is not your typical premium-TV fare, ladled on like gravy for flavor, but a continuation of whatever conversation the people having it were having before they started having sex, and a prelude to whatever comes next. Notwithstanding their watchable professional attractiveness, the players seem unusually human and present in their bodies, which makes these scenes all the more intimate and emotional, without forcing the point. (Director of photography Eon Mora, who worked as an assistant cameraman on Swanberg’s “Drinking Buddies” and “Digging for Fire,” is especially sympathetic to his aims.) You feel you should tiptoe back out of the room and let them have their privacy.

Themes emerge, among them fidelity, responsibility, ambition, sacrifice (willing and reluctant), identity (losing it, getting it back), and aging, which is on the minds of everyone over 25. One episode, about a couch and a house guest, is almost entirely in non-subtitled Spanish, but the power arrangements are always clear. Other episodes, or parts of episodes, reflect directly or indirectly on a life in the arts, creatively and practically; one of these, the last in the series, deals with the question of whether to say small and independent and when to reach from something big. And though it’s couched in terms of craft beer, the resemblance is clear.

The cast, drawn from within and without Swanberg’s unofficial repertory company, includes among its bigger names Jake Johnston, Marc Maron, Jane Adams, Orlando Bloom, Malin Akerman, Kate Micucci, Dave Franco and Hannibal Burress. But everyone onscreen seems perfectly alive.



Where: Netflix

When: Anytime starting Thursday

Rating:TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)

On Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd

Joe Swanberg enters new territory with ‘Drinking Buddies’

HBO’s ‘High Maintenance’ is both funny and real in its depictions of big city weed delivery