Even post a nap I was pretty out of it yesterday evening, so instead of writing, I decided to give up and just watch some mindless TV. Hulu had been suggesting this little thing called The Booth at the End
(link to Hulu for American viewers), which sounded mindless enough, so I clicked on that.
Two and a half riveting hours later, I sat, enthralled and stunned, and realizing that whatever this was, it was not mindless TV.The Booth at the End
has a simple enough premise. A man sits at the booth at the end of the diner (thus the title), eating and drinking and occasionally scribbling in a notebook. As he does, various people come up to him, occasionally making mysterious statements about pastrami sandwiches, and ask for his help with a problem. He listens, and offers a deal. If they do X, they will have what they want.
But they have to tell him about how they did (or didn't) do X. That's also part of the deal.
And so, they come back, again and again, to talk about their progress. Or lack thereof.
The tasks range from simple (help ten old ladies cross the street) to hellish (set off a bomb in a crowded café; the old lady trying to do this to restore her Alzheimer's stricken husband remarks with wonder that Google really can tell you anything
). Others turn out to be more complicated than originally thought (bank robbing). And some lead to other tasks.
But, as the man in the booth explains, whether they do the task or not is entirely up to them. All he does is make the deal.
In between deals, a waitress tries to chat him up.The Booth at the End
was filmed on the cheap, and it shows. The show has only one set (the diner) which I'm fairly sure, given the lack of variety of camera angles, was an actual diner, not a set built to look like a diner, along with a couple of (frankly unnecessary) brief exterior shots of the diner. Lights are turned off and on to give us night and daylight shots, and one or two scenes have some technical lighting issues (I think they were filmed either in the morning or the afternoon when the light was wrong). The film editing could occasionally use a little work. People eat food and drink stuff and a glass gets broken, but otherwise, that's about it for set costs.
And, let's face it, the dual premises – dealing with the devil, and just how far will people go for what they want, are not, shall we say, exactly original, and some of the storylines and twists are predictable. (Some.) And some of the storylines - well, they may not be for everyone.
Which doesn't make the show any less compelling and watchable, thanks to an intelligent, taut script with often brilliant dialogue, and brilliant acting, particularly from the guy playing the man in the booth (possibly known to some of you as the guy also playing Percy in the current version of Nikita
, although he's much, much better here), who manages a neat blend of reassurance, interest, menace and cynicism. Parts are brutal. Parts are creepy. Parts are funny. Parts put a lump in my throat.
And the ending. I can't really say much without spoilers, except to say it pulled off the rare trick of leaving me both completely satisfied and completely guessing. Yes. Both.
So. I'm enthusiastic.
But I'm also bringing this up because once it was over, I couldn't stop thinking about a certain cable television channel that has loftily told us that it needs to cut back on its original genre programming because of budge concerns. And a certain broadcast television channel that has happily splurged money on a mindless genre show where four episodes in (yes, I'm behind) dinosaurs are still not eating nearly enough people. (And by "people" I mean most of the cast except for the soldier running the compound who is pretty cool but I digress.)
Look, I'm not denying that genre shows can benefit from a decent budget. (See, Game of Thrones
, and to a lesser extent, this year's Grimm
and Once Upon a Time
.) Nor I am denying that sudden budget cuts can harm genre shows (hi, Season Four of Fringe
But I am saying, enough with the bullshit that you can only make decent genre shows with money. What you need for a decent genre show is thought
. And if you don't believe me, well go watch The Booth at the End
. You should probably do so anyway.