I had always thought psychics were a scam and SHUT EYE uses their sleazy world to show that, or so I thought. Parlor tricks and cheap readings for the future are something I could easily read in a horoscope as those are parlor tricks as well (at least I think so). I specifically remember someone telling me how physics are magicians and I laughed hard.
Charlie Haverford (Jeffrey Donovan) is a failed magician who’s now a small time con artist “psychic”. He runs his scam out of his house with his wife Linda (KaDee Strickland), as they both work for Fonzo (Agnus Sampson) and his mother Rita (Isabella Rossellini) who are Romani or gypsies if you will. Things become harder once Charlie’s sister (Leah Gibson) disobeys the rules leading to two of Charlie’s parlors being taken away by Fonzo for the already money strapped Haverfords. A cheating boyfriend decides to pay Charlie a visit for telling his girlfriend correctly that he was cheating. A vicious beating ensues leading Charlie to perhaps gain some actual psychic abilities.
What I liked about this show is that it draws you in almost immediately from the opening scene. This first episode gets to the point fairly quickly. Using a noir-ish, seedy Los Angeles to capture mood, the show’s atmosphere sizzles. None of the characters here are particularly good, in fact they’re all quiet unlikable, the thing is they are certainly redeemable. There are things to like about Charlie and Linda such as their conviction and drive to make ends meet and to keep their children safe as well as make a better life for them. They want to be out from under Fonzo and Rita’s thumb to be their own business. What exactly are Charlie’s powers is not made clear as of yet, but from what we have seen so far I cannot blame him for using them for his benefit (it seems as if he has visions of the future). Never would I thought there would be a show about a con man with psychic abilities, but this first episode managed to pull it off.
What’s interesting here is we have a hypnotist played by Emmanuelle Chriqui named Gina. The way Gina is presented I thought she’d become a henchman employee of sorts for the Haverfords, but that was put to rest when it’s revealed that Linda is having an affair with her. What is Gina’s end game also remains to be seen. A known gangster named Eduardo Bernal (David Zayas) seems to be only introduced here as Charlie uses his newfound abilities to his advantage to make friends with Bernal.
Jeffery Donovan brings his likeability to the character of Charlie and it works in the series’ favor. Wrong miscasting could’ve turned this into a why should I care fest. Thankfully, Jeffery breathes life into Charlie making the audience want to see what type of con he can pull off without having his head cave in. There’s a scene where Charlie’s sister is punished for scamming in Fonzo’s territory by having her face cut. As we watch Charlie stand there and let it happen, it isn’t cowardice or anger I felt. It was a sense of relief as the stakes are real. He’s still recovering from his injuries plus as he says “She broke the rules”. I personally couldn’t have been as level headed as he was but in that situation, retaliation would only get everyone involved killed. KaDee Strickland also makes Linda sympathetic as she wants more from her husband that to just be a middle man to get stomped on or do the stomping.
Do I find that this want to be wannabe gangster show? At times yes, but creator Leslie Bohem, seems to bring a certain new angle here that would make his show seem trite in any other way. The world of psychic cons hasn’t been explored yet and there’s great potential here. If this plays it’s cards right (and focus less on the crime aspect and more on the character) this can be different from say The Sopranos or Sons of Anarchy. Leslie also manages to inject some dark humor into this show ala Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul to keep this thing from taking itself too seriously. The first episode here manages to find that delicate balance to make sure it doesn’t veer off the rails. I’m not familiar with Mr. Bohem’s previous work, but I do wonder what the end game here is. I’m at this point less interested in where the characters end up rather than what exactly this show is trying to accomplish.
Is this strongest series premiere I’ve seen all year? No, but it’s not the worst and it sure is entertaining. The show so far manages to use familiar tropes to its advantage. The show’s title Shut Eye refers to a performer who becomes comes to believe that he or she actually possesses psychic powers. It’s used amongst psychics, magicians and mentalists. Cute right? It remains to be seen if the trick can be fully pulled off.
Season 1, Episode 1 (S01E01)
Shut Eye airs Wednesdays on Hulu
A lifelong film enthusiast since he can remember, Brandon is a indie filmmaker/screenwriter and freelance critic who resides in Trenton, NJ. Feel free to hit him up on Twitter to talk movies, shows, and music (especially hip-hop) .
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Brandon Norwood | Contributor