Netflix's New Show 'Gypsy' Isn't the Sexy, Soapy Summer Binge-Watch You Deserve
It's turning into a rough summer for Naomi Watts. Despite appearing on Twin Peaks: The Return, one of the most acclaimed television events of the year, she recently took a critical drubbing for her starring role in director Colin Trevorrow's The Book of Henry, a family drama that's earned more than a few comparisons to Tommy Wiseau's "so bad it's good" cult film The Room. Now, with Gypsy, a 10-episode Netflix drama that dropped last night, she's added another creative misstep to her resume.
It didn't have to be this way: When the trailer for Gypsy was released, it looked like a binge-worthy beach read brought to life. With a pilot directed by Fifty Shades of Grey director Sam Taylor Johnson's and a '90s erotic thriller vibe, it felt like a departure from the more action-heavy (and male-driven) shows that tend to clog up the summer months. Plus, with Watts and the often underrated Billy Crudup playing her slick lawyer husband, the cast screamed prestige -- or, at the very least fun, knowing trash.
Even the premise -- a therapist (Watts) messes with her client's personal lives behind their backs -- has an In-Treatment-meets-Breaking-Bad vibe that felt like a worthwhile fling. There's definitely a real desire (and need) for complicated female antiheroes like Watts's Dr. Jean Holloway in the TV landscape. Add in a few bottles of white wine, expensive looking kitchen counter-tops, and some "moisturizing before bed" scenes, and you've got an East Coast version of Big Little Lies.
Sadly, my initial read on the show was a misdiagnosis. Gypsy, which takes its title from the Fleetwood Mac song of the same name, suffers from a problem that has plagued many other heavily hyped projects in the peak TV era: It… moves… so… slowly. As much as some snooty TV fans like to complain about the ridiculous plotting of network fare -- the constant cliffhangers, the twists at every act break, the lack of realism -- there's a skill and panache to the blitzkrieg plotting of shows like Scandal or How To Get Away With Murder. It's a pleasure to suspend your belief. It's not a pleasure to suspend your interest.
And that's what Gypsy is asking for: After the pilot sets up the central conflict of the show, the possibility of an affair between Watts's character and a mysterious young woman named Sidney (Sophie Cookson) who used to date one of her patients, it makes you endure hours of scenes of the two awkwardly dancing, flirting at a coffee shop, and exchanging angry texts. So. Much. Texting.
This type of slow-burn romance would work if both characters felt like fully-realized people, but Sidney, who plays in a band called Vagabond Hotel, is a collection of millennial (and Brooklyn) cliches. At one point we watch a video of her singing "I want to get inside your head" over and over during a concert, and it's played as a hypnotic, even sinister moment. Much of the writing strikes a similar obvious tone, like the staff, which was led by creator Lisa Rubin, was supposed to insert more specific language at a later date but ran out of time.
That's a shame because Watts, as always, is quite good. Ever since she broke through with the one-two punch of Mulholland Drive and The Ring in the early 2000s, she's been an incredible screen presence, capable of playing complex emotions that exist below the surface of everyday life. You see that here: Episode three, which centers around a birthday party for her daughter Dolly, even hints at a sharper, less dour show about domestic strife. It's even funny at times. Unfortunately, like its protagonist, the series insists on chasing cheap thrills.
The many attempts to drum up suspense, like a scene where Watts visits an urban commune with an older patient's estranged daughter and is forced to read the last text message sent on her phone, are often painfully convoluted. There are only so many times you can watch Dr. Holloway almost trip-up and reveal her relatively low-stakes scheme -- and then get away with it anyway. Gypsy is a show that hints at mystery and intrigue, but it's content with leaving you in the tastefully decorated waiting room. After a few hours, you might as well cancel the appointment.