Film and TV

The Intertubes: Odd Jobs

Remember a couple of years ago when America's banks ruined our economy and everyone started getting laid off and we were all catapulted into a giant recession from which none emerged unscathed except for America's banks? Sure you do, it was in all the papers. Well, it was only a matter of time before a web series popped up examining life in an America where the corporations must lay off millions of loyal workers just so the CEO can afford to buy a slightly lesser-quality yet still reasonably luxurious yacht with his annual bonus. We're all hurting here, and the folks at Brackets Creative decided to depict that anguish in the form of a watchable yet ultimately slightly hollow buddy comedy.

Written and directed by Jeremy Redleaf, who also plays the lead character Nate, Odd Jobs starts out with Nate's firing from his firm. In the first episode, we also learn of the two main people in his life: his best friend and roommate, Joe, played by Devin Ratray, and his fiancee Cassie, played by Alexandra Daddario. Joe is a slob who works at odd jobs he finds through various connections around the city - and also on Craigslist - and is half Jack Black, half Cosmo Kramer. Cassie is an ice-cold asshole who, from the get-go, is supremely unlikable and obviously only interested in Nate for his high-paying job. The fact that Nate no longer has this high-paying job and must hide this fact from Cassie provides the central conflict of the episodes so far. The series attempts to answer the question, "How does a man who makes $300 a day at odd jobs support a woman who insists on being taken out for $300 meals every day?"

Of course, the question of "Why would he?" isn't addressed at all, nor is the issue of how an upwardly-mobile yuppie drone like Nate got to be such good friends with the shiftless yet boisterous Joe. None of these characters fit with one another, which isn't really a problem until a couple of episodes in, when while on an odd job with Joe, Nate meets a girl who also lost her job and is also struggling. She and Nate have an immediate rapport, and it's brain-stabbingly obvious to the rest of us that she, not Cassie, is the perfect woman for Nate. Nate remains even more oblivious to this than most simpleton protagonists, and it's questionable whether or not he's even realized she's a woman yet. Joe, meanwhile, attempts to woo her mainly by saying how much he'd like to have sex with her. As she is a tiny little thing and Joe is massive, this would be an interesting feat in and of itself. Up until she enters the picture, the three main characters' incompatibility has simply been a source of amusing conflict. Yet with the new girl on the scene, we start to have some pretty serious problems with character motivation, even for a comedy.

A button-down square like Nate can make friends with a slovenly party animal like Joe in real life. It's even more plausible that a Nate could fall for a Cassie. The flaw in Odd Jobs is that it doesn't show Nate as being in love with Cassie. She serves as an engine to drive the plot and as a target at which Joe hurls - admittedly hilarious - verbal abuse. When Nate and Cassie are onscreen together, there is no warmth from one for the other. I understand that Cassie is supposed to be an ice queen, but what about Nate? The rest of the time he's a likable guy who is able to relate easily to other people, yet whenever Cassie is around, he awkwardly dangles off of her like a man suspended from his own plot hook. Shouldn't we learn that Nate has a twisted affection for detached women like Cassie? Shouldn't we learn that Nate can't function without a harpy bossing him around? Or something? Some reason, however inane, comedic, or stupid, for these two characters to be together?

It's a web series that wants laughs but also wants you feel for its characters. Thanks to some better-than-good scripting from Redleaf and some fine delivery from Ratray, the laughs are definitely there, enough to keep me interested for the time being. But if Odd Jobs wants us to start identifying with its characters, it needs to give them some heart. We need to learn why Nate won't immediately ditch Cassie and hook up with the girl who is so obviously meant to be his soulmate. Otherwise, this is simply going to be a torturous slog through romantic-comedy motions all of us have seen done before. Done better, and done to death.

The odd jobs portion of the show functions very well, and the production crew really seems to have a good idea of how people who bounce from one job to the next really live. If only that knowledge and sympathy extended to the characters' relationships, Odd Jobs would truly be worthy of having won the 2010 Streamy Awards' Best New Web Series. It's good, and it's got potential to be great, but the best? No. Not right now. Like its characters, it needs some time, thought, and hard work to get its act together.

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John Seaborn Gray