Fine dining: Simple diner setting, captivating performances provide recipe for intriguing show
I can’t tell you the last time I made a point of watching actual TV. It usually just happens. Sitting on the couch, hoping to kill some time, I’ll turn on the tube and see what’s there. I honestly don’t think I plan it anymore.
It used to be so important. The show starts at 9 p.m. Be there by 8:55 p.m. or you’ll miss the opening sequence. That’s no more, and any time I remember when I have such an appointment, it’s met by the thought that I can watch it later. Aren’t there better things to do?
This is all, in essence, a roundabout way of saying that for most of us, TV doesn’t mean TV anymore. We don’t make appointments to sit down and watch. And why would we? A good three-fourths of the shows that premier every fall are absolutely abysmal. If something is worth watching, I’ll catch it online tomorrow.
And yet with “The Booth at the End,” a Hulu exclusive series, there are none of those hang-ups. It’s just a superbly rendered piece of entertainment, and so modest at that.
The premise is deceptively simple. A man sits in a diner in the titular “booth” with a notebook, casually waiting for clients to come in. Some have seen him before. Others are new and uncertainly prompt him with the code phrase, “I heard the pastrami sandwich is really good here.” He tells them to have a seat.
They’ve heard things about him, that he’s a miracle worker in a sense. People come to him with their wishes and desires, and he gets it for them. With a price, of course.
Each person has to execute a task, return to the booth and tell the man about it. For example, a girl comes in with the hopes of being prettier. The man tells her it’s possible, but she’ll have to rob a bank.
And that’s really it. Lots of people come in. They talk and they leave. The show never leaves the diner as it hops from person to person. We hear of their exploits, exciting and thrilling bits of suspense, like the old woman charged with the task of building and setting off a bomb. But still, we only hear what they tell the man. For a half an hour, people just talk to each other and it’s captivating. It’s because the stakes are so high.
That doesn’t give enough credit to the actors, who essentially have to convey their whole story to the man and the audience. Each character is given a depth to his respective desperation, which an image could easily convey. But here they have only the dialogue to work with. In lesser hands it can be concerning. There are one or two performances that feel out of place, but that’s usually a circumstance of their wish. The man who wants to date a gorgeous woman just does not stack up against the nun at a conflict of faith who asks to hear God speak to her. Priorities, I guess.
The goal isn’t petty. The goal is their wish, their deepest desire. For his son’s cancer to go away. For her husband to recover from Alzheimer’s. For his girlfriend to be a centerfold model. For money.
The man doesn’t care. It is, of course, unclear what his motives are, but former “clients” have referred many booth-goers, so it seems that he knows what he’s doing. Are they making a deal with the devil? Or is he finding out how far they would go for what they want?
And it cannot be stressed enough. It all takes place in a diner, and it’s more exciting than most of the current TV landscape. Whereas ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX have budgets that overshadow the per-capita GDP’s of small countries, “The Booth at the End” makes for exciting storytelling on a shoestring.
And you can watch it anytime you want to. Trust me: You really want to.
Contact Jeff: firstname.lastname@example.org
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