Netflix’s Gypsy, Starring Naomi Watts, Is a Poorly Paced Misfire with Untapped Potential

TV Reviews Gypsy
Netflix’s Gypsy, Starring Naomi Watts, Is a Poorly Paced Misfire with Untapped Potential

If you are experiencing paranoid ideation or have a weird, bad feeling about your therapist, you might want to put this one aside until you’re feeling stable. Everybody else: Come with me. We’re going to go down a rabbit hole.

Nextflix’s Gypsy has issues, but—significantly—it also has Naomi Watts, who should arguably be classified as a munition. Wow. Luckily, she’s one of those actors you’d watch reading the phone book, because Gypsy’s pacing is excruciating. I was totally baffled to learn it was billed as a thriller. It also suffers badly from Hamfisted Imagery Syndrome, Distracting Filler Disease and a disconcertingly incongruous title sequence, full of aforementioned hamfisted imagery and a really weird use of Stevie Nicks. But: Naomi Watts! Yes to her.

Her character, therapist Jean Holloway, is demure and quietly authoritative and professional, with a great husband (Billy Crudup) and an awesome, spirited nine-year-old daughter (who is showing signs of gender dysphoria, but Mom and Dad are supporting her all the way). They are suburban professional picture-perfect, maybe with a little bit of an edge.

The minute she walks into a coffee shop called the Rabbit Hole and decides to tell the barista her name is Diane, we know something weird’s going to happen, and we know what’s prompted it: She’s noticed that the barista, Sidney (Sophie Cookson), is the ex-girlfriend one of her clients is obsessing over (they have matching tattoos). And—say it with me—hijinks ensue! The plot unfurls slowly (oh so slowly), but tracks Jean / Diane as she basically stalks Sidney and, for good measure, starts meddling in the lives of other clients’ family members under her alter-ego “Diane” personality. At first, it seems as if she’s developed a freakazoid-grade way of getting “context” to help her clients, many of whom turn out to be lying to her. But it isn’t that.

The next logical guess is that Jean is having some kind of midlife crisis, chafing at her suburban life and longing for her adventurous youth. There’s some there there, but it’s clearly deeper than that by the time she’s not only working on constructing her “Diane” character, but also having sex with Sidney and then talking about her in therapy with the troubled ex-boyfriend, Sam (Karl Glusman). Of course, webs of lies have a funny way of unraveling on us, and by the end of the season, Diane has gotten Jean into some freaking serious trouble. I won’t give away the goods, even though you might nod off before you get there. But it’s marriage-destroying, career-ending, scorched-earth bad. We don’t know, so far, what the actual consequences will be, but we do know that this has not been a breakdown or a midlife crisis.

Like way too many therapists, Jean Holloway is… I think the clinical term is “clown-shit crazy?” She is compelled to do these things (and it’s clear it has happened before) because she has a serious personality disorder (narcissist, sociopath or borderline flavor most likely). In case her compulsive lying, utter lack of boundaries and icy, blank stare don’t make that clear, the writers have gone ahead and named her “Holloway,” get it? Oh, there’s a lot of that. The coffee shop is “The Rabbit Hole.” The surname Jean gives Diane is “Hart.” Sidney’s is “Pierce.” The lethally boring frenemies in the Holloways suburban circle? The Faitelsons. Come on, guys, give us some credit, this isn’t a Rick Riordan novel!

I think Gypsy would be salvageable in a second season if it gets the chance, and if the creators pare down, hone their focus, and decide which story they really want to tell. And ditch the endless mirror imagery (this isn’t Twin Peaks, either!) and the constant dialogues about what is and isn’t real and who is and isn’t pretending, though I guess they’re stuck with the character names at this point. (Duuuuude. Sooooo. Teeeeeedious.) Because they have some wonderful performers and actually, the premise is good! It looks a lot like “bored suburban wife wants to take a walk on the wild side” on the surface, but it isn’t. They have a way more interesting vein to mine here, and I am hoping they do that, because there is a lot to play with in a therapist who is actually an empty shell with no conscience, no boundaries and no impulse control. I mean, yikes. So it’s too bad about the wackadoodle signal-to-noise ratio.

Don’t approach this show expecting a thriller or you will be completely confused by the pacing. The story has untapped riches and a very strong cast. I think it’s heavy-handed and undisciplined and could benefit from a structural rethink (each of the 10 episodes in Season One could probably have done its job with aplomb in a 30-minute running time). But if you like shows about mind games, keep an eye on this one. It has a ton of potential.

Gypsy is now streaming on Netflix.

Amy Glynn is a poet, essayist and fiction writer who really likes that you can multi-task by reviewing television and glasses of Cabernet simultaneously. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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