Expect impossibly attractive people in impeccable clothes cast in flattering lighting — and melodrama. So. Much. Melodrama.
While Kelly derived the concept for Revenge from The Count of Monte Cristo, What/If’s lineage is less highbrow than Alexandre Dumas.
But it is a classic of sorts: Indecent Proposal.
The 1993 movie starring Robert Redford as a billionaire who offers Woody Harrelson’s David a million dollars for one night with his wife Diana (Demi Moore) had a particular appeal among a certain crowd.
And that will be true for the 10-episode What/If. It will have a particular appeal for a certain crowd.
What/If flips the Indecent Proposal formula around. This time, Renée Zellweger’s Ann Montgomery is an uber-richer who proposes to invest $80 million in Lisa Donovan’s (Jane Levy) biotech company for one night with her husband, former baseball star Sean (Blake Jenner).
The series is at pains to shows us that Lisa and Sean are very much in love, snuggling in their definitely unaffordable San Francisco apartment.
Her start-up is days away from bankruptcy and venture capitalists are turning her pitch down in droves while he’s still haunted by his failed professional sports career and does double duty as a paramedic and bartender.
In walks Ann Montgomery, a venomous investor whose motivational speeches sound like Arianna Huffington if Huffington was possessed by Ayn Rand’s ghost.
Montgomery is a sociopath who gets off on manipulating people, and she’s intent on toying with Lisa and Sean.
Zellweger is clearly relishing the villainous role and you can see her eyes glinting with glee as she chews through the scenes.
Zellweger took something like a seven-year break before the woeful Bridget Jones Baby — she deserves a better role than this for her first significant TV project.
There are some supporting characters — some best friends and a gay brother — who have their own storylines involving infidelity and threesomes, but they, like the lead characters, are all generic.
What/If is ostensibly a psychosexual noir-thriller, and it recruited Australian director Phillip Noyce (Dead Calm) to shoot the first two episodes with loads of loitering or off-kilter camera angles.
But a noir-thriller What/If is not. This is a messy, trashy prime-time soap opera, except on streaming. Or worse, a midday movie with a slightly higher production budget and an Oscar winner.
Its pacing, aesthetic and mood is bringing on unpleasant flashes back to Gypsy, that Netflix series staring Naomi Watts — and Gypsy is not a series you want to be associated with.
It’s being billed as an anthology series, the idea being that every season would follow a different story. But, oh boy, this series does not deserve a second season.
Unless you’re particularly enamoured with half-witted melodrama, give this a wide berth.
Slow-moving and over-the-top, it relies heavily on being “seductive” through its languid piano score and soft-focus lighting, and people intensely staring at each other.
Even though it’s a story centred on characters who are supposed to be highly intelligent, they’re constantly outsmarted by each other in moves that any dumdum would’ve seen coming a mile off.
That lazy and frustrating plotting is typical of a show that thinks it’s much cleverer than it is.
What/If is available to stream on Netflix now
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