At the outset, Netflix's Easy is a show about first worlders (literally, urban Chicago dwellers) and their first world problems. Only that their problems mirror the very Gordian knots that 20-somethings, 30-somethings, 40-somethings, in comfortable careers across the world, are trying to disentangle — love and loss, and it is about everything the millennials are trying to make of their individual lives.
An anthology of eight stories about loosely connected individuals in Chicago, Easy is quite easy to watch; it is also extremely engaging. So what makes a show about such broad themes so engaging? Joe Swanberg's application of 'semi-improv' (mumblecore) is perhaps one of the best reasons I can think of. Through Easy, Swanberg shines a bright light on the lost art of candid conversation.
The conversation (within the confines of the mind/outside with another person) is the point, the arc of the storyline on the other hand is besides it.
In the first episode, 'The Fu***** Study', Kyle (Michael Chernus) and Andi (Elizabeth Reaser) are essentially negotiating in a modern gender space. The husband is the playwright-stay-at-home dad, the wife brings home the bacon by giving up her own career in theatre. When a friend at a party cites a study that men and women performing traditional gender roles tend to have better sex lives, Kyle and Andi instinctively latch on to that idea as the reason for the disintegration of their marriage. There's role-play, a sex toy and pornography but their failing marriage is in the foreground, in razor-sharp focus. And, it's uncomfortable to watch Andi not enjoy the sex that she so badly wants — there is something deeply pitiable about that.
In 'Vegan Cinderella', there's a rush in Chase (Kiersey Clemons) to impress Jo (Jacqueline Toboni), her new girlfriend, and to become more like her. Chase's efforts — to go vegan, watch arthouse films and pretend to ride a bicycle — are cringeworthy, but they are reminders of what all of us have done at some point in our lives. There's a pressure to find the one. And this one usually is the kind of person we aspire to be, but fail, quite miserably so.
'Controlada' rakes up the inner turmoil of Gabi (Aislinn Derbez), it is obvious that the compromise of a couch purchase symbolises something larger in her life when her ex visits town and she is all too eager to tread the familiar. She wants to stick to her secure, stable life and looks forward to a future with her 'always there for her husband', but there is also this yearning for what seemed to have been a fantastic and passionate past.
'Art and Life', easily one of the best episodes in the series tries to reach reflexivity, through its characters, Jacob Malco (Marc Maron) and Alison Lizowska (Emily Ratajkowski) — two artists, uniquely aware of their subjectivity, navigate the blurred lines of life and art. (This is also where it gets Woody Allen-esque and brilliant.)
In all of this, it's hard not to be reminded of Ursula K Le Guin's fantastic mediations on the importance of conversations. Human communication, she says is not just about passing information but relationship between the parties involved:
"The medium in which the message is embedded is immensely complex, infinitely more than a code: it is a language, a function of a society, a culture, in which the language, the speaker, and the hearer are all embedded." (The Wave In The Mind)
Others have hailed the show as the 'sexiest show yet', dubbed it a 'love story to Chicago' and there's one that claims that it is like 'watching an ambivalent millennial sigh for 27 minutes'. But at its very core, the show quite simply put, is about conversations, dialogues (their absence), and mental monologues (that you never hear) that are intuited to the audience by way of an awkward giggle and countenance. Swanberg's Easy also draws a certain angst that only millennials are privy to — a prevailing feeling of purposelessness or a sense of emptiness and self indulgence that only plagues our kind.
In a snap, you won't be wrong in saying that the series is about sex, but mostly it is about the mediations, ruminations, and imaginations around sex and love that are updated by culture and society. It's Swanberg's acute sentivity and awareness of this mind that makes the series what it is — (highbrow but) important.
Love, romance and sex have been commodified to a great extent, especially concepts surrounding these fields. While there's our enthusiasm to swipe left and right on Tinder/Happn/Bumble, there's also the 'clever' bio that says: 'I am willing to lie about where we met'. There is much of what society offers that we've rebelled against, yet it is almost entirely impossible to be atheistic of it. This makes our lives complex, not because there are physical manifestations of our issues (sometimes there are), but mostly it is the conversations we have in our own minds that are taxing. We're navigating a nebulous spectrum of finding love and sex and most of it is grey; adding to this is also our love for independence, quest for a calling, and our insecurities with ageing.
Who says that millennials have it easy?