Review: ‘The Village,’ NBC’s latest tear-jerker, is a feel-sad fairy tale saved by its acting
“Feelings,” ran a popular song of the 1970s. “Nothing more than feelings.”
Nothing more, and nothing less than feelings is the fuel that feeds “The Village,” a new drama from NBC set in the best — which is not to say the priciest — apartment house in all of Brooklyn, New York City, U.S.A.
It is a story whose characters are trying hard not to have feelings — because feelings are hard — in order for the viewer to fill up with feelings about those feelings and how the characters are trying not to have them. It will get to most at some point, and to some at all points.
Sentimental stuff has become dear to the peacock network since the success of its emotionally forward “This Is Us.” Like the teen theater drama “Rise” last spring along with last fall’s aspirational hospital drama “New Amsterdam” and supernatural thriller “Manifest,” in which characters feel other characters from the inside, “The Village” represents another step in a brand built around community, connectedness and eyes brimming with tears.
Created by Mike Daniels (a writer and producer on “Sons of Anarchy,” which resembles this show not in the least), it’s a fairy tale of New York, a show in which a Coney Island security guy will let three old men go on rides after hours because they are sad about a dead friend. You are not to worry about the practical likelihood of a place like the Village existing, or the way its cast of lower- to lower-middle-income characters — including two single mothers and their children — can live in such well-equipped quasi-luxury. It is unlikely, you may think, if you think of it at all, but not technically impossible. And anyway, TV does this all the time.
This is the sort of sadness that you are meant to sink into, luxuriously, like a warm bath. Those tears feel good, don’t they?
So who are the residents of this multistory love-in called the Village? The super, Ron (Frankie Faison), is not a god figure who must be appeased with regular small bribes and an expensive gift at Christmas to make sure the heat works, but a sort of guardian angel who looks after his tenants as much as his (immaculate) building, and throws “a little shindig on the Village roof every third Friday.” Everybody comes.
He is married to Patricia (Lorraine Toussaint), who seems to be a social worker; that she is going through a hard time (you will guess why even before the doctor gives her the news) won’t stop her from helping neighbors who are having their own hard times, because, as Ron says, “You live under this roof, you’re family.”
Ron also owns a money-losing bar, called Small’s, which is not Harlem’s famed Smalls Paradise, but similarly legendary: “When not all people could go everywhere, all people could come here, and come they did,” Ron tells new tenant Nick (Warren Christie). “Jackie Robinson, Langston Hughes, Dr. King, and up on that stage, Ella Fitzgerald, Cecil Taylor, Sonny Rollins — this whole room filled with smoke and poetry.” Like everything connected with this crowd and series, Ron’s bar is not just a place, but an extra-special “mythical” place.
Nick is a veteran recently returned from active duty, minus a leg. (Christie is not himself an amputee, if you are wondering.) Nick has bad dreams, a German shepherd (also missing a limb) and some secrets that constitute spoilers.
Then there is Gabe (Daren Kagasoff), a law student who continually has to remind his neighbors that he isn’t a lawyer yet, because they have plenty of occasion to want him to be. He lives in an apartment formerly occupied by his grandfather, Enzo (Dominic Chianese), now unhappily in a nursing home and agitating to move in with his grandson; there are vague intimations of a criminal past, but he is now an adorable comic-relief scamp who cadges drugs to deal to his fellow seniors. Sarah (Michaela McManus), one of his nurses, also lives at the Village, with her teenage daughter Katie (Grace Van Dien), a fabric artist and minor vandal for peace. Sarah and Katie dance it out when they have a problem and sometimes speak in “1930s movie heroine voices.”
And finally, among the tenants we shall meet and care about — I assume there are other people in the building leading lives of quiet non-desperation — are Ben the cop (Jerod Haynes) and Ava (Moran Atias), an Iranian immigrant falling afoul of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She has a little boy, with whom Ben will skip stones and eat matzoh ball soup.
All are in or close to crisis, although they are the sort of ordinary extraordinary crises that will have touched most viewers, first- or second- or thirdhand, or just because they are the sort of thing that movies and TV shows are made about — PTSD, immigration, teen pregnancy, aging, child custody and that old devil cancer. At the same time, like the well-kept, catalog-ready spaces the characters inhabit, it all feels a little sanitized, something less than real, as if any sort of mess or disrepair were an affront to the aspirational nature of the show.
On the other hand, it’s possible that if the drama felt more actual, it would be difficult to bear. This is the sort of sadness that you are meant to sink into, luxuriously, like a warm bath. Those tears feel good, don’t they?
Fine performances go a long way to mitigating the corniness the show actively courts. I am not the person this show has been made for, but I don’t care to mock the dream that the series proposes. (I live in a courtyard apartment myself and think it is good for humans to live among neighborly neighbors; it’s good for their pets too.) As to its own tenancy in the NBC schedule, “This Is Us” fans should be happy to see “The Village” take over its time slot when that show finishes its season. Go in peace.
When: 10 p.m. Tuesday
Rating: TV-14-LS (may be unsuitable for children under 14 with advisories for coarse language and sexual content)
Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd
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