Warning: Spoilers for the Briarpatch premiere follow…
Sometimes too stylized for its own good, as if Wes Anderson adapted a John Ridley novel, Briarpatch is a slice of naughty noir that might satiate your mystery cravings this winter (though it’s set in scorching temperatures) if shows like The Sinner or The Outsider are too grim and gruesome for your tastes.
Adapted from a 1984 Ross Thomas novel by podcaster/critic Andy Greenwald, and executive produced by Mr. Robot’s Sam Esmail, Briarpatch is awesomely anchored by Rosario Dawson, who plays a D.C. investigator called back to her quirky, quicksand hometown of San Bonifacio, Texas (nicknamed “Saint Disgrace”) after the sudden, and explosive, murder of her sister.
As Allegra “Pick” Dill, Dawson makes for a cool and confident audience surrogate as she’s called back home for the first time in nine years to find out who put a bomb in her cop sister Felicity’s car. The labeling of “anthology series” means that Briarpatch all but promises to wrap things up by the tenth and final episode, but it’s less clear about what the show will be heading into succeeding seasons. Does it keep Dawson’s Dill around for another mystery or is the small town odd-itorium vibe the true star of the series?
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All the hallmarks of a fun and fundamental murder mystery are on hand – from a past tragedy very few people talk about to an estranged sibling who kept a ton of secrets to an assortment of colorful-yet-shifty characters at our disposal. There’s Edi Gathegi’s chatty lawyer A.D. Singe, Jay R. Ferguson’s “big man in the mansion” Jake Spivey, and Brian Geraghty as Felicity’s married love interest, to name a few silly members of the citizenry.
Ostensible allies might be enemies, and vice versa. There are even two seemingly separate cases going on here, what with Allegra also being tapped by a senator to investigate a bunch of missing war money. If things click the way they usually do in this BBQ-slathered noir, both threads will connect somehow.
The marquee star of the show however, aside from Dawson, is the ambiance. Briarpatch notably touts Sam Esmail’s involvement because Briarpatch, like Mr. Robot, presents us with off-kilter visuals and audibles. Often times feeling like a graphic novel come to life, it does run the risk of drowning in its own delirium. As this premiere episode moves forward, the tone smoothes out some, but right out of the gate you’re hit with a lot.
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Nothing feels quite real and because of that you’re less invested overall. As Allegra enters her town, it’s ferociously hot, random animals are on the loose, and her hotel is somehow incapable of clearing up a room service tray left out in the hall (to get symbolically blanketed in ants over days). It’s like she walked onto the set of a Coen Bros. film and not a grounded, true place.
Fortunately, Dawson’s Dill isn’t phased easily and her tendency to cut through small talk and pleasantries helps us navigate the dreamscape. Her non-reactivity is what makes the craziness around her work because if it’s somehow all normal to her, it can be more readily accepted by us.
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