Good news, everyone: Jordan Peele’s new sci-fi series is available to stream right now. Wait, no, sorry, I’m not talking about the CBS All-Access reboot of The Twilight Zone—I’m referring to Peele’s other one. Since the breakout success of Get Out, Peele has been lining up a ton of projects, including The Hunt, a forthcoming Nazi-hunting series, for Amazon Prime; Lovecraft Country, a supernatural series set during the height of Jim Crow, for HBO; and, of course, his new horror movie Us, coming out next month. But before all that, there’s Weird City, a six-episode anthology series now available on YouTube Premium (formerly known as YouTube Red, I can’t imagine why they might’ve changed the name).
Cocreated along with Charlie Sanders, a comedian and a former writer on the Comedy Central sketch series Key & Peele, Peele’s newest project follows the many unique denizens of Weird, a futuristic metropolis with a literal line separating the Haves (rich people) from the Have-Nots (lower-class citizens). With this broad template—technologically advanced city, clear social and economic divides—Weird City isn’t reinventing the wheel so much as it’s taking the kind of ideas presented in Black Mirror and giving them a comedic spin.
Weird City functions a lot like extended Key & Peele sketches, setting up scenarios for its characters that highlight the perks—and more crucially, the limitations—of living in a futuristic, high-tech society. The first episode, for instance, follows Stu Maxsome (played by Dylan O’Brien), a young, single man living among the Haves. However, because he was born as a Have-Not, he was never assigned a romantic partner, so he joins a dating site that claims to be able to scientifically match him with “The One That’s The One.” What it ends up doing is setting him up with Al Bundy himself, Ed O’Neill. (Suffice it to say, they’re both more than a bit perplexed.)
So just to confirm: Yes, that is the star of The Maze Runner trilogy and the sitcom legend from Married With Children and Modern Family as a makeshift couple matched together through Future eHarmony on a YouTube show. Which is perhaps the weirdest thing about Weird City: The series boasts a ridiculous bench of famous actors while appearing to have the production value of, well, an actual YouTube channel. Other actors who show up over the six episodes of Weird City include [deep breath] Steven Yeun, Laverne Cox, Mark Hamill, Michael Cera, Yvette Nicole Brown, Awkwafina, Rosario Dawson, LeVar Burton, and Sara Gilbert. (I guess if you slap Peele’s name on something, good actors line up to be in it.) Production-value limitations don’t automatically downgrade a project with sci-fi leanings—Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You had a modest budget but is an exceptionally strange movie packed with big ideas.
In that vein, Weird City goes small and pokes fun at some of the clichés of gritty dramas, unveils the strangest faux-retro promotional video this side of Justin Theroux’s work in Maniac, and has rich socialites lamenting the fact they don’t get to eat at “food vehicles” because they aren’t in safe neighborhoods. There are some clever ideas here, but they’re impeded by the fact Weird City doesn’t concern itself with being more than a vague collection of futuristic stereotypes rather than a unified theory on the utility and pitfalls of modern society.
Weird City has its moments, but the biggest issue with the series as a whole—especially given its pedigree in front of and behind the camera—is that it fails to deliver anything as memorable as Key & Peele. Weird City lacks the kind of trenchant social critiques (“Negrotown”) and plain weirdness (the “Continental Breakfast” skit) of that show’s best sketches. Hampered by the high standards Peele set in his TV peak, Weird City falls flat and seems unfortunately at home on YouTube.
Should You Watch It? If you’ve got a craving for something in the vein of Black Mirror that isn’t nearly as bleak or self-serious, Weird City has some great actors who elevate its otherwise forgettable material.
What Is the Show’s Weirdest Bit of World-building? Instead of therapists, people now go to a monitor that resembles a vending machine and spits out vague koans, like a futuristic fortune cookie dispenser. For example, one character goes to a machine, presses the “mommy issues” button, and receives this line of advice: “Your fixation on the past stops you from living in the present.”
Who Has the Best Futuristic Look? I can tell you this much: It’s not Michael Cera.
Cool little neck tattoo, though.