AMC first described “Lodge 49” as “a show that defies easy categorization,” and that’s certainly true. It’s technically a drama thanks to its hour-long runtime, but otherwise feels more like a stretched out hangout sitcom with startling moments of nihilism baked in where the laugh track should be. It doesn’t just defy easy categorization as a TV show unto itself; it defies expectations of what an AMC series might, or should, look like, not quite fitting into any of the network’s previously established tones.
Created by author Jim Gavin, “Lodge 49” follows a group of people working through their frustrations and longing for something — anything — more in Long Beach, California. Twins “Dud” (Wyatt Russell) and Liz (Sonya Cassidy) are reeling and flailing after the sudden, mysterious death of their father, but their coping mechanisms and way of tackling problems send them spinning in opposite directions. Liz, who co-signed her father’s loans right before he died, has to confront the reality of the crushing debt he left on her plate. Dud, who would rather just live his life, man, stumbles his way into joining Lodge 49, a secret-ish society of similarly lost souls with dreams bigger than the lives they’re leading.
Dud and his immediate love for the titular lodge is clearly where the show’s main interest lies. His enthusiasm for a new group of friends is so pure that it even manages to startle people who have pledged many of their waking hours to learning decades of lodge history and hanging out together in a crumbling bar. His good-natured bumbling — paced about as leisurely as his many, many beer breaks — occasionally makes for some good moments, especially as he becomes actual friends with lodge heir apparent Ernie (Brent Jennings) and has an unlikely romance with an older, depressed HR employee (a great Jocelyn Towne).
But the lodge’s better storylines don’t belong to Dud at all, but to Ernie, Ernie’s off-and-on romantic interest Connie (Linda Emond), and eventually Blaise (David Pasquesi), the lodge’s resident “alchemist.” All three characters, mostly thanks to the actors portraying them, manage to dig a little deeper and convey more pathos than the words they’re given.
It’s not necessarily a problem that the show’s supporting characters are by and large better than its main protagonist; if it were, easily 85% of shows would be at a disadvantage. The real problem is that Dud isn’t nearly as fascinating as “Lodge 49” thinks he is, not even when it introduces some downright surreal teases of him being some kind of preordained prophet sent to reveal the Long Branch outpost as the “one true lodge” — or something like that, anyway. Even though the show’s occasional dips into magical realism can be welcome breaks from its otherwise bleak reality, it’s never entirely clear what it’s trying to do with its greater lodge mythology beyond hint at its existence. The same holds true for the sidebars into Long Beach corporate conspiracies, which are interwoven throughout the season but rarely feel all that necessary.
In fact, “Lodge 49” accidentally proves how little it needs those forcibly weirder details with how it treats Liz, whose stories grounded firmly in reality — in stark, purposeful contrast to Dud’s — are the show’s best by far. Her struggle to accept the shattering truth of her financial crisis without crumbling entirely lets the show address the infuriating cycle of debt and bland buzzwords of corporate greed with straightforward candor (helped by Cassidy’s perfectly wry portrayal). As she fights to keep herself together while occasionally giving in to self-obliteration, the show finds its best moments of absurdity without reaching too hard for them. Real life, as it turns out, is plenty absurd enough.
Drama series (all 10 episodes watched for review). Premieres Monday Aug. 6, 10 pm on AMC.
Crew: Executive producers: Jim Gavin, Peter Ocko, Paul Giamatti, Dan Carey, Jeff Freilich.
Cast: Wyatt Russell, Brent Jennings, Sonya Cassidy, Linda Emond, David Pasquesi, Eric Allen Kramer.