Saturday, July 13, 2024

‘High Desert’ series review: Patricia Arquette anchors a chaotic dark comedy

A still from ‘High Desert’.

A still from ‘High Desert’.
| Photo Credit: Apple TV+

It’s 2013 and Peggy Newman (Patricia Arquette) is hosting her family for Thanksgiving in her luxurious Yucca Valley house. Her mother Rosalyn (Bernadette Peters), brother Stewart (Keir O’Donnell) and sister Diane (Christine Taylor) are waiting for Turkey with a beer in their hands as the children get busy with their scuba diving gear in the pool. However, their plans are dampened when Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officers break down the door to raid the house; Peggy tries to dispose of weed down the sink and hide money in pool filters to save herself and her husband.

High Desert (English)

Director: Jay Roach

Cast: Patricia Arquette, Matt Dillon, Bernadette Peters, Christine Taylor, Rupert Friend, Brad Garrett, Weruche Opia

Episodes: 8

Storyline: Peggy Newman, a woman with a checkered past, makes the life-changing decision to become a private investigator following the death of her beloved mother

Ten years after the incident, Peggy has lost her fortune and is grieving the loss of her mother while working in a Wild West theme park in the valley. Her husband Denny (Matt Dillon) is stuck in prison on drug charges. Peggy tries to keep her distance from drugs and meanders in the desert in search of a stable income. Soon, she stumbles upon Bruce Harvey (Brad Garrett), a private investigator low on clients, and offers her services to him even though she has not been formally trained for the job. In her first proper case as a PI, she is forced to interact with a fellow dancer’s former boyfriend, Guru Bob (Rupert Friend), who seems to be selling stolen art pieces. Bob is a former television presenter who switched careers after a breakdown on live TV and took to spirituality to make a living.

While this is the main plotline, there occur a series of unfortunate mishaps that complicate Peggy’s life — from encountering a TV actor who bears a striking resemblance to her mother to solving the theft at her workplace — she tries to solve all of them but, in the process, ends up creating more trouble for herself.

Patricia Arquette positions herself front and centre in this dark comedy and does not shy away from exaggerating Peggy’s quirks for the camera while donning period costumes that elevate the absurdity of the show. But everything seems to be working against her — too many plot points populated with characters without any backstories make watching the show feel like a chore. The jokes and punchlines are often rushed through and do not give the audience the time to breathe and acclimatise to the premise.

High Desert fails to construct a potent atmosphere to relay the psyche of addicts that other comedy shows like Single Drunk Female have succeeded at. But Patricia’s love for Peggy which shines through in her acting convinces the audience to continue to root for her protagonist throughout her missteps.

The eight-episode-long show does not make for an ideal binge watch, you might want to space out the 30-minute chaotic episodes over a few weeks to keep yourself from drowning in Peggy’s whirlwind of chaos.

The first three episodes of High Desert are now streaming on Apple TV+, with new episodes airing weekly on Wednesdays.

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