Comedy (Adjacent) Spotlight: The Curse

PhotoRichard Foreman Jr./A24/Paramount+ with SHOWTIME

When thinking about The Curse, I oscillate between categorizing it as a comedy vs. categorizing it as a drama. Neither category truly seems to fit. Its idiosyncratic, strange and funny nature makes for a less than comfortable fit in the drama category, yet its deeper and darker themes leave it hanging only part-way over the comedy category. With its not-quite-right fit in either, it is something that I would define as a “comedy adjacent” show – that being a show with a lot of comedic elements (oftentimes with the involvement of comedic actors, writers, directors), but that doesn’t fit as easily into the comedy genre.

The line that this show walks – not too heavy to be a drama, yet not too overtly funny to be an out-and-out comedy – is maybe the key to why I find it so engaging. Its tone is a dryly surreal one, balancing the authentic with the heightened to once again not fit quite comfortably in either camp. Some characters are played in more standard fashion (Emma Stone and other more major characters), while others are more absurd and off-kilter (Nathan Fielder, co-creator of the show who brings his strange and comedic energy from Nathan For You), while still others seem to be a quirky combination of the two (co-creator Benny Safdie).  

The show lends itself to a unique authenticity. Going beyond the three lead performers, many of the side characters seem to be played by people who are not actors, bringing a unique authenticity to those performances. The show is shot in a very straightforward, flat-paneled way - almost documentary style. Oftentimes, shots are from far away and are held in place, undistracted from different angles and quick editing. It seems to be shot on location in Espanola, NM, where the show is set (some even seem to be hidden camera style, shot in active parking lots or other public places). Very true-to-region topics such as land rights in Native communities and eco-friendly housing efforts in arid climates contribute further authenticity. Storylines often seem mundane and everyday, a number of which includes the decisions that go into making an HGTV-style show and fostering a sustainable eco-friendly community. 

This authentic/mundane feeling is very interestingly paired with the surreal. The strange title card and music cue at the start of each episode sets the tone for each episode’s strange, sometimes ominous vibe, with the musical score reflecting this strangeness throughout. Along with the seemingly normal plot points are more heightened ones that are harder to pin down (Benny Safdie’s character waking up in a random field). Even some of those side characters, with their untrained and authentic performances, contribute a bit of surreality with their unexpected line delivery or acting choices. Nathan Fielder’s character, motivation and performance is a good microcosm of this real/surreal pairing - his performance is at times reminiscent of some of his more broad moments from Nathan For You, other times it is more dialed back and grounded. The sometimes pathetic aspects of his character, and his narrow focus on inane things in the midst of more important things, was one of the funniest parts of the show.

There again, this authenticity/mundanity/surreality is paired with deeper themes. This includes some character moments such as Emma Stone’s troubled connections with her family, the relationship troubles of Nathan and Emma’s characters, the troubled past of Benny’s character. Further still are larger societal ideas, which were made more impactful by the fact that the show was somewhat unassuming in its presentation, and was not being overly direct or preachy - these include the often ham-fisted approach of well-meaning (and maybe some not so well-meaning) white liberals, the definition of art and the idea of “selling out” as an artist, the over-politicization of human interactions, the fakeness of “reality shows”, and the differing objectives of those with means and those with less. 

These multiple areas - an almost boringness and authenticity, complemented by the surrealness and humor, complemented by the unexpected depth - all come together to create the unique alchemy that is this show. It made for a unique and engaging experience, even if it is hard to pin down what you experienced.


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