the effect of curseNew ten-episode cringe-comedy series on Showtime created by Nathan Fielder (Rehearsal, Nathan for you) and Beni Safi (uncut gems), who also stars alongside Emma Stone, is hard to describe. It’s kind of low-key but excruciating, which is a serious combination. Right from the start, there’s a slight build-up of unsettling fear, as the cringe effect gradually gets higher and higher. It seems quite clear that the series will passed Arriving at the end at some kind of terrible horror or catastrophe.
And I’m only at the end of episode one, since Showtime releases hour-long episodes per week, that’s probably all the public can tolerate.
I admit I cry easily, and it would take much less to make me suffer than the combined expertise of Fielder and Safdie – both masters of anxiety-inducing effects in their different registers. If curse Wasn’t so interesting in its own unique, horrifying way, I would never be able to sit through it.
curse is about an affluent married couple named Asher (Fielder) and Whitney Siegel (Stone) who are hosting a reality TV show pilot, which they hope to sell to HGTV. flippanthropy, produced and directed by Crass Dougie Shechter (Safdi). The concept of the show is a combo of all those home-improvement and house-flipping shows plus strange eye-Philanthropy imposed on the working-class citizens of Española, New Mexico. The show’s “good deeds” include providing housing to civilized people moving out of the area, but it also takes the form of placing residents in the Seagulls’ own eco-homes. The model of his property development company is to buy inexpensive properties, renovate them in energy efficient ways, and flip them for big profits. They also find jobs for locals in the trendy new coffee shops and pottery shops they have invested in.
Seagulls are unconsciously confident of their own well-being. For example, they think that buying indigenous art to decorate the walls of a charming coffee shop will neutralize their own participation in beautifying the area. The series goes after big, fat, easy targets – the dumb vulgarity of reality TV, the crass rationality of rich gentlemen who convince themselves they are true allies of the working class. But the show’s approach is so dogged that you can’t help but hope it’s going somewhere you haven’t gone before. Somewhere you don’t want to go, but feel compelled to go, like in a nightmare.
On camera, the Seagulls promise to subsidize new housing so renters don’t have to pay as much, but even in the first episode it’s clear the whole scheme is wobbly and ready to collapse. A reporter is already investigating their sources of income and discovers that Whitney’s father Paul (Corbin Bernsen) made his fortune as a local slumlord. The press is not yet aware of the full connection between Paul’s money and Whitney and Asher’s company, but it is only a matter of time. Especially because Asher has no ability to manage the press, and everything he does to drum up publicity is for the sake of publicity. flippanthropy Much worse.
This seems to be the normal way of life for the socially stunted Asher, which is going from bad to worse. Dougie urges him to give money to a young girl selling soda in the parking lot, so a “spontaneous” moment of Seagal philanthropy can be captured on camera. Asher only has a hundred dollar bill, but he walks up to the girl and offers it to her with a patronizing smile, saying, “It’s just for being you.”
Then, when the “scene” is over, he tries to get the hundred back so he can break it at a nearby eatery and then give the twenty to the girl. The girl protests – her sister and father come forward to defend her – and when Asher finally pulls the bill from her hands, she says in solemn anger, “I curse you!”
Surprised and trying to follow through with the plan, Asher lamely says, “‘Ka.”
He then tries to change the bill, but the clerk cannot break a hundred bills, and suggests Asher try the ATM. This is bad. A local customer who knows the peculiarities of the machine offers to help him, but he needs his PIN number because the machine has to be pushed in a special way when entering the PIN. Asher clearly thinks he’s about to be scammed, but he’s desperate for the twentieth century, and doesn’t know how to get out of the awkward social impasse. In typical style, he hesitates and spoils everything until it becomes clear that he suspects the person of being a fraud, but in the end he gives him the PIN number.
Asher gets his twenties, but is fatally insulted by a local man. And after all this happens, the girl and her family leave the parking lot when Asher returns. To top it off, Dougie kept the camera on the entire horrific exchange with the girl and Whitney later watched the footage. She insists Asher find the girl and return the hundred dollar bill. Asher goes out looking, but ends up giving the money to a struggling single mother and then lies to Whitney about it, claiming he gave the girl the hundred back. Of course, this hellish tale will continue in the upcoming episodes, as Asher’s lies will come back to haunt him.
Soon a lot of things are going wrong, it seems like there’s a real possibility that the girl’s curse had supernatural power over Usher and Whitney’s entire showbiz venture, as well as their marriage. But then again, who needs extraordinary intervention when normal human behavior is so destructive?
The way the series is presented, framed for us through dirty windows and chain-link fences as well as irregular film and cellphone recordings, makes us wonder who will have the controlling perspective in the end. Certainly Dougie seems like a compulsive subversive, constantly feuding with the Seagals for authority on the show, pushing outrageous ideas which he insists are “standard” in the industry. And he finds endless ways to create distance between Asher and Whitney, whose relationship seems unstable at best and fraught at worst.
By the end of the first episode, we already know more than we ever wanted to about the size of Asher’s penis – thanks to an unexpected close-up shot – as well as the size of father-in-law Paul’s penis . As Paul says with a wry smile in a highly unpleasant scene on his patio, where he grows tomatoes fertilized with his own urine, “We’re cherry tomato boys.”
He then insists Asher eat a tomato. It’s that kind of show.
Fielder is at the forefront of cringe comedy, a subgenre generally considered a twenty-first century phenomenon. It is almost always traced back to Larry David curb Your Enthusiasm (2000–present), Sacha Baron Cohen Ali ji give show (2000–2004), and the British version Office (2000–2003), which was more painful to watch than the long-running American version (2005–2013), which is still worthy. Fielder worked closely with Cohen Who is America? (2015–2018) and from there has continued to combine reality TV and fantasy elements in more painful ways. for you nathan (2013-2017) and Rehearsal (2022–present).
Many people have tried to explain the sudden birth of this subgenre, including Melissa Dahl’s book Cringeworthy: A Theory of Weirdness, They all have the usual caveats about how comedy will always have “stiff” aspects, referring to the defining quality of embarrassment and shame that is central to the sub-genre. Reality TV and mockumentaries are often conflated with cringe comedy, pointing to a revealing element of the form: its tendency to be brought uncomfortably close to our reality, to the extent that Cohen’s bizarre fictional characters Ali G, Borat and Bruno, for example—were often mistaken for normal people.
The feeling that we are all on the verge of joining our own online “cringe” scenario is at the heart of all social media consumption, which has long been the subject of mass ridicule and public shaming. Most of the time we are safely watching the embarrassment of others presented in endlessly circulated memes and reams, but we never know when our turn might come. Remember Taylor Swift’s argument that everyone learns to adapt to stubborn behavior for our own good? “Learn to live with cramps. No matter how hard you try to avoid being angry, you will look back on your life and be angry retroactively,” the singer said.
Most things written about cringe comedy try to find the heartwarming side of the phenomenon. It has been observed that in order to feel indirect embarrassment and shame, we have to have empathy, and that is a good thing. This is a very typical contemporary analysis, finding a way to congratulate ourselves for the lowest level of fundamentals, the mere capacity for human qualities: Hey, look, we’re not totally sociopaths! We are still able to feel for others!
But of course there is another angle to the popularity of cringe comedy, which is an extremely intense “other people are hell” reaction to twenty-first century life. Not only have we become more involved in the lives of others through social media and the unbearable 24/7 news cycle, we are becoming more aware of our interdependence at a time of the growing climate change crisis, brutal war, and massive refugee influx. Becoming worryingly aware. Shrinking areas of land where life can still exist.
And look who we are interdependent with in these times of endless crises! We cannot stand for such people at any cost, as we know from the ongoing ideological warfare via “meatspace” and the increasingly insane omnipresence of all media.
There’s a reason Dahl combines cringe comedy with horror, both forms raise the question, “How can you stand to watch this?” “It almost works like a horror movie,” says Dahl. “You have to tap into this fear, but that’s okay. “You’re not actually experiencing it, but you have this simulation.”
It reminds me of the tutorial aspects of the zombie movie, which is always obvious to fans, but manifests in mock-documentary works like this. Zombie Survival Guide And a helpful publication from the Centers for Disease Control during the pandemic on what to do in the event of a zombie apocalypse. We laugh, but we know we’re being prepared for real-life horrors to come.