Dispatches from Elsewhere is an American drama television series that was created by and stars Jason Segel. It premiered in March 2020 on AMC just as we were all locking down, sheltering at home and social distancing.
Jason Segel has said the series is structured somewhat like The Wizard of Oz and that is not a bad way to view the episodes which are all quite different and certainly a journey to a fantastical land.
Fantastical is a good adjective though it is no fantasy. I watched each of the ten episodes week to week, and in between, I did some research on Segel and the series. Currently, you can watch all the episodes on .amc.com.
The mystery-game-art-project that the series is about actually occurred in “real life.” Segel had seen a documentary about it by Spencer McCall called The Institute. The game took place in San Francisco and Oakland over three years starting in 2008 to 2011. I haven’t seen the documentary but it seems to be like the game and the series deliberately mysterious. A puzzle to decipher.
Some people will like that (I did) and some people will be frustrated (my wife) and not want to figure things out. Some people may think that the game and the revelations are pretentious (I did not). Of course, those are all things that characters in the series also feel.
So much of television content is simple and easy to digest that I need to mix in some complex things.
They announced the series in 2018 with Jason Segel starring and later they added Richard E. Grant, Sally Field, Eve Lindley and Andre Benjamin to the cast. It would be shot in Philadelphia, a city with a lot of public murals and artwork that works into the story.
In the first few episodes, each of the main characters gets a full episode that focuses on their story. We are told each time that we (the viewers) are like that character. Siegel has compared the series to the Wizard of Oz and in both stories we are similar to each of the main characters.
Jason Segel is Peter, a kind of programmer who works at music service. It’s monotonous but safe. But he does want to find meaning in his life. He is on a team with the other characters trying to solving the game they all get in involved in playing. Though they’re not sure it is a game.
Andre Benjamin plays Fredwynn, a very intense, intelligent and very paranoid man.
Eve Lindley is Simone, a trans woman who is trying to figure out how she fits in.
Sally Field is Janice Foster, the optimistic, the older member, with a very sick husband at home who is also trying to fire out who she will be.
Richard E. Grant plays Octavio Coleman, Esq., He is the head of the Jejune Institute that has created and is controlling the game. But for what purpose?
The Institute documentary tells us how the Jejune Institute created the alternate reality game. In those three years, it took in more than 10,000 players. Each had responded to enigmatic flyers posted in San Francisco that told you to go to the Institute for their “induction.”
People may be surprised that Segel created this series. He is best known for the sitcom How I Met Your Mother which he was in for all nine seasons. Prior to that he starred in two cultish series, Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared. H e has also done a bunch of films. The one most people would point to is Forgetting Sarah Marshall which he wrote and starred in.
Two lesser-known films he did that I liked and that gave me a different take on Jason are Jeff, Who Lives at Home and The End of the Tour. In the first, he is Jeff, a 30-year-old unemployed stoner living in his mother’s basement. The film has some of the follow-the-clues and find-the-meaning aspects of the new series.
In The End of the Tour, a magazine writer who interviewed the real life novelist David Foster Wallace (Segel) recalls the days that he followed the author for the article after he hears that Wallace has committed suicide.
Wallace’s novel Infinite Jest is a novel that I have been trying to finish for years. The novel was highly praised, an international bestseller, and very meaningful for many readers. If I finish the novel, it will merit a post here.
This is not a spoiler but in the final episode of the series, the story and the series is explained. Sort of explained. Jason Segel the actor emerges. In a flashback, a boy who would become the performer known as the Clown-Faced Boy, tells his parents that he wants to become an actor. His stage act runs for many performances but becomes stale. The boy wants change. Is he Segel or Peter? Cut to a support group meeting that includes Jason Segel (a version of the actor played by himself) who also wants a new direction in life.
Real life crosses over. Simone (or is it Eve?) invites Jason to her Barn of Beautiful Things and hands him a postcard to Elsewhere which sends the actor on a city journey and inspires him to write a script for a series titled “Dispatches from Elsewhere.”
The ending reminds me of a Fellini film where all of the cast shows up as characters and as actors. Jason meets the Clown-Faced Boy and realizes that he is his own career struggles personified and Jason asks for help making the series. The circle comes around when we see Jason watching the series with Janice, Simone, and Fredwynn. They like it but find the ending self-indulgent. Even viewers get a chance to be part of the ending.
I’m going to watch it again. Even knowing all the spoilers, there are still things that will surprise me. That’s always a good thing.