Tuesday, August 16, 2011
The Booth at the End
Last weekend I discovered the web series The Booth at the End. Only five episodes were made, shown exclusively on HuluPlus this summer. As I watched episodes one through four, I wished the series went on forever, but when I heard the final line of episode five, I realized, no, the story ends perfectly right where it stops.
Apparently the show counts as science fiction, but only in the way that Stephen King short stories or certain Twilight Zone episodes count as science fiction. The series is really more of a character study (articles about it call it a psychological thriller). I like that one HuluPlus user (HuluPlus is the only place you can see it-correction: you can see it on regular Hulu.com, but not if you're in certain countries) called it the most boring show he'd ever seen. I am fascinated by the show, but to appreciate it you do have to be satisfied with a single location and a bunch of two-person conversations. My only complaint about it is that its many shots of pie and sandwiches make me crave diner food.
The central question of the narrative is "How far would you go to get what you want?" People come to a man who sits in the booth on the end, in a small diner. They want something that has proven impossible to achieve in their lives (it often involves the well-being of someone they care about or the attainment of a certain kind of experience). This man provides them their greatest wish in return for a task that he gives them. As they go through the steps of completing the task, their dream starts to come true.
What's interesting is that not all the tasks are unpleasant. Some are difficult for ethical reasons, but some are just difficult (such as, to befriend someone with agoraphobia and get him to go outside). There also, at first, seems to be no point or greater design to these tasks. Each is simply the price for what you want. It's painful yet engrossing to watch the characters constantly weigh the challenges of their task against how badly they want their desire. Often the tasks require them to stretch their beliefs about right and wrong and they seem to be asking themselves, "Is this worth it? How about now? How about now?"
The science fiction aspect of the show is the way this mysterious, nameless man can work such magic in people's lives. That part is never explained, but I don't think it's important. The Booth at the End gets its suspense from the slow reshuffling of people's ethics and the always present question in the viewer's mind: are they really going to do that? If this is the kind of series we get when an Internet entertainment provider creates original programming with no budget, then let them never have enough for a haircut.