This week, the pulpy new HBO series ROOM 104 veers from the metaphysical in “Ralphie”, last week’s premiere episode, into the realm of soft-core seediness in the anthology series’ second episode. Last night, Mumblecore pioneers and noted HBO dramedy show runners Jay and Mark Duplass (Mark wrote this episode) dove deep into the world of naive, gawky “Pizza Boy” Clark Duke, from director Patrick Brice (The Overnight).
Duke plays Jarod, an innocent, horn dog pizza boy, who arrives at the titular motel room 104 on a cold winter night to deliver the “meat lover’s pizza” to two people who look like they’ve never eaten pizza a day in their lives. Scott (James Van Der Beek), dressed like a debonair night club visitor, struggles to procure payment. First, he can’t find his wallet.
Jarod’s wandering eyes linger to the glowing red lights of the motel bedroom. Scott’s buxom wife, Jennifer (Davie-Blue), stands, stock-still, glaring at herself in the mirror, wearing a red slip. She drops the outfit, exposing herself to Scott. Scott diverts his gaze, and suddenly she re-emerges wearing a tight blue dress.
At long last, Scott locates his errant wallet! Sadly, though, the contents are empty. He insists on getting cash from a nearby ATM, as he doesn’t want his tip for Jarod to be taxed. This would leave Jarod alone in the room with Jennifer. Jarod, sensing trouble, pushes for a credit card order to be called in. Scott won’t hear it, and instead he dons his coat and dashes out into the night.
Jennifer beckons Jarod to meet her outside the bathroom. She quizzes him about her two outfits, alluding to the fact that he may have been… distracted as she changed. She chastises him lightly, sends him a few paces away from the door, then changes again, this time into an alternate red dress. She moves to the bed, quizzes him in sexually coded language about his experience with “pizza” (clearly shifting into double entendre territory) and delivering it to women like her. He stutters, then claims to have made such deliveries “a bunch of times.” Jennifer kvetches about her husband’s total apathy towards “pizza,” suggesting a frigid physical relationship.
Moving right along, Jennifer gently insists that Jarod join her on the bed. He approaches her gingerly, pensively. No sooner has he sat down than Scott has darted back inside to the motel, cash in hand. Almost like clockwork, Jennifer rises from the bed, makes a bee-line for her coat on the table adjacent to the front door, and exits swiftly.
Scott makes uncomfortable small talk with Jarod, and is about to pay him, in cash, for the pizza, when he receives a text from Jennifer. Whatever the message’s contents are must be enough to get him incensed. He turns on Jarod, asking him with rising anger what the standard tip rate is for making love to his customer’s wife.
Jarod stalls and fidgets, dancing around the question (even when, clearly, there was no sin committed outside of some light flirting with a lonely woman) as Scott advances on him. Suddenly, Scott shoves him onto the bed, wrestling him into submission as he binds Jarod’s arms, then ties his feet together with the motel phone cord. He puts on some country music and proceeds to line dance (replete with lasso action pantomiming) as he insists that Jarod tell him how many times Jarod slept with Jennifer.
Jennifer, just in time, shows up, and appears to be shocked that Scott has bound up Jarod. Scott, delivering the episode’s best line, insists that he knows about the “sucking, and the ****ing, and the long-distance trucking, the whole shebang Mama Joe.”
After getting into a highly melodramatic soap opera discourse, Jennifer and Scott slug each other, then collapse into the bed adjoining Jarod’s. They launch into some showy, pseudo-pornographic fornicating, clearly for Jarod’s benefit. “Is this what you want?” they continue to ask him. We fade to black as he screams…
Cinematographer Doug Emmett moves delicately across the room with micro portrait coverage — of Jennifer’s red dress discarded on the floor, of the meat lover’s pizza strewn over a wrecked chair. Jarod is donning a grey suit and fluffing his hair just so. Jennifer is wearing a modest white bath robe, Scott is back in his James Bond night gear. Jarod doles out performance notes for the pair. Scott’s character transition from cosmopolitan weirdo to Southern dad was a jarring one for Jarod. Jennifer exposed herself to Jarod too quickly after he walked inside the room, she should temper that moment and draw it out. They address him as “sir.” He pays them for their performance, even though it was merely an audition. Their first real customer, their first faux “meat lover’s pizza” delivery boy, is on his way. It’s time for them to clean up and run the sketch again.
A further note on Emmett, who along with Davie-Blue and her winking line readings is the star of the episode: Emmett’s work throughout the piece is great, he cultivates a delicate moody ambiance that is simultaneously mysterious and seductive.
The episode as a whole is much stronger than “Ralphie,” the show’s premiere slice. I for one still wanted to know the exact nature of Clark Duke’s operation (What other sketches do his sex performers enact for his clients? How the heck did his performers find out about the audition?), but I get the feeling Room 104 isn’t going to be big on details, especially after the confounding, open-ended conclusion of “Ralphie.” The “Pizza Boy” episode’s resolution registers as a much more satisfying conclusion than its predecessor.
Season 1, Episode 2 (S01E02)
Room 104 airs Fridays at 11:30PM on HBO
Alex Kirschenbaum | Contributor