Gypsy – Netflix’s latest offering – feels like an artsy but sleazy 90s thriller or a pulpy mystery novel. It’s the type of story Adrian Lyne would have directed or Paula Hawkins would have written, only extended to ten hour long installments. The series – with two opening episodes directed by Fifty Shades’ Sam Taylor-Wood – stars Naomi Watts as Jean Holloway, a therapist married to a rich business man, Michael (hardest working actor of 2017 Billy Crudup – Jackie, 20th Century Women, Alien: Covenant). Her life seems perfect. Yet, the psychiatrist feels an urge to flirt with danger – embroiling herself into the lives of her patients through complicated means. Things intensify when she finds herself drawn to Sidney (Sophie Cookson), a young sensual but dark woman – the ex of Jean’s patient, Sam (Karl Glusman).
The series – created by Lisa Rubin (her first television credit) – will appeal to those who were transfixed by the similarly fast-paced but meditative, trashy but adult first two seasons of Showtime’s The Affair. Like that show, Gypsy has a stellar cast – even smaller turns by Poorna Jagannathan as Jean’s best friend or Lucy Boynton (Sing Street) as a drug addicted patient are memorable. Each episode has a handful of tense scenes, some of which arrive out of nowhere. An example is a moment in which a mock inquisition of Jean by Michael turns serious and the viewer for a second isn’t sure whether its a ruse or whether the main character’s husband has discovered her transgressions.
Yet, amidst all these thrills – Rubin’s main focus is on character. Jean, Michael and Sidney are three layered protagonists, so much so that five episodes in – the viewer still feels that there is a lot more information to peel away regarding the three at the heart of the story. The writer also isn’t afraid to put plot on the back burner in order for the audience to get to know the people better. Most of the information we learn about Michael for instance is from scenes between him and his secretary Alexis (Melanie Liburd). The two clearly have a spark, something that will inevitably lead to marital conflict. Still, even mid-way through the season, Rubin doesn’t rush to this plot-point, letting the two naturally grow closer through believable conversations.
During an argument, Michael tells Jean: “We live in a society with certain rules like control your fucking impulses”. It’s a very telling line because its that dichotomy at the heart of Gypsy, the clash between sensible, societally-accepted behaviour and repressed, unconscious desires. At the half-way point, I’m not entirely sure if I should read its exploration of this juxtaposition on a psychoanalytic level (Jean is a therapist after all) or as a trashy piece of eye-candy. Either way, with Sam Taylor-Wood setting the template for the show’s visuals, its certainly enjoyable to watch.
- Jean’s pre-pubescent daughter is experiencing “gender issues”, another example of the battle between societal pressures and natural desires.
- Jean uses the alias “Diane” when attempting to get information on her patients by becoming close to their friends or relatives. A possible nod to Watts’ role in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive?
- As good as Watts is – she delivers a typically fine, expressive performance – the scenes where Jean lies are a bit distracting. As much as the character gloats that she is a great liar, its totally untrue. She looks so suspicious.
- Sidney has the potential to be perceived as a “manic-pixie dream girl” stereotype. However, as we mostly learn about her through Jean and Sam’s view-point, perhaps she’ll become more fully fleshed out as the series continues – giving her more of POV. There are hints of depth to the character so I’m curious to see how Gypsy handles this going forward.
Stephen Porzio (twitter@porzfolio)