Created by Lisa Rubin
Arrives on Netflix 6/30/2017
All episodes watched for review
What makes Gypsy, a new 10-part series from Netflix, so refreshing is how old fashioned it almost seems. There are twists and turns on the series, but in many ways this is a straight forward TV drama, curiously averse to falling into the trappings of so many modern shows that seem to stretch themselves into ludicrous knots in the quest to become “prestige TV.”
Written by newcomer Lisa Rubin, and helmed by several directors, including Sam Taylor Johnson, Gypsy follows the psychological crisis that befalls pricey New York therapist Jean Holloway (Naomi Watts). On the surface, Jean has it all — a large house in the suburbs, a handsome, loving husband, a charming, intelligent daughter. “You have stuff,” one of her patience in crisis almost angrily tells her at one point. Yet Jean is slowly coming undone. She has issues with her domineering mother, and we learn that her seemingly ideal marriage to her husband Michael (Billy Crudup) went through a rough patch in the past that caused Jean to move out and get her own apartment. When buying coffee at a hip coffee shop one morning, Jean becomes entranced with Sydney (Sophie Cookson), the young barista who takes her order. For reasons only Jean knows, she gives Sydney a fake name for her order — Diane (whether or not this is a winking reference to Watts’ character in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive must remain a mystery for now).
As fate would have it, Sydney’s ex-boyfriend Sam (Karl Glusman) is one of Jean’s patients, who just happens to be in therapy to help get over his bad break-up with Sydney. Jean begins manipulating the knowledge she gets from Sam to grow closer to Sydney, all while manipulating Sam to drive him further away from her. This is a habit she begins to repeat with other patients as well, using therapy as a way to control the people around her. As the series unfolds, Jean and Sydney grow closer and closer, the sexual tension ever-mounting, all while Jean continues to manipulate those around her, including her husband, colleagues and several of her patients. She develops a rather severe drinking habit at well, to the point where there are times when Gypsy seems like an ad for Bulleit bourbon.
Jean’s motives are frustratingly vague, but that’s part of what makes Gypsy so fascinating. Jean herself doesn’t quite understand why she’s doing the things she’s doing, and at times seems almost powerless to stop them. Her infatuation with Sydney dramatically alters her entire existence to the point where she is juggling multiple lies at once in order to maintain a semblance of order. Watts, one of the best actresses working today, flourishes in the part, or more accurately, parts, since her character is constantly switching identities and personalities as the series unfolds. We can constantly see the gears turning behind Watts’ eyes, and we can feel the anxiety mounting in her character as her manipulations get more and more out of control. Her character is like Pandora, unable to stop what she’s unleashed once it’s out of the box. The chemistry she has with Cookson, as the sneering, confrontational Sydney is palpable. Sydney is much younger than Jean, and in no way her intellectual equal, but it’s easy to see why Jean would become so enamored with her, taken in by Sydney’s punk rock bad girl charms.
Crudup, as Jean’s husband Michael, is quite good here as well, playing a character who could’ve easily seemed like a hapless dope, but who has a rich backstory of his own. At the office, it becomes abundantly clear that Michael’s secretary Alexis (Melanie Liburd) has a crush on him, and the series playfully teases whether or not Michael will act on this all while Jean continues to dance around whether or not she’ll turn her lust for Sydney into something physical.
The revelations of Gypsy are often shocking, even disturbing, yet I’ve personally become so accustomed to the over-the-top developments of modern prestige that I kept waiting for something even bigger to drop. Some monumental, mind-blowing reveal that would turn the entire show on its head and make all the episodes that came before it almost moot. And when that didn’t happen, I was pleasantly surprised. In a sense, Gypsy plays out like an engrossing novel; a psychological thriller for adults that doesn’t worry much about creating water-color moments. In an age when most TV shows seem tailor made to illicit bombastic, emoji-laden comments on Twitter as soon as the episode ends, Gypsy seems content to let its story unfold as it sees fit. It doesn’t entirely work — like almost all Netflix shows, it feels one or two episodes too long. But there’s such rich drama here, and such an astonishing performance from Watts, that it almost doesn’t matter. Gypsy may not inspire binge-watching or much internet buzz, but anyone looking for an old school drama won’t be disappointed.