The final event of SXSW’s brand new Episodic section did not disappoint, as Hulu’s upcoming original series “Deadbeat” showed promise at its Tuesday afternoon screening. Starring Tyler Labine (“Tucker & Dale vs. Evil”), Brandon T. Jackson (“Tropic Thunder”) and Cat Deely (“So You Think You Can Dance”), the half-hour comedy follows a stoner who helps New Yorkers solve their ghost-related issues.
“I think we’re almost getting to the point where the difference between online television and traditional television, that conversation is probably going to be dated in a couple years,” said series co-creator Brett Konner (“Wilfred”) at the post-screening Q&A. “I don’t think people are going to distinguish them.”
The Vimeo Theater was at about half capacity for the screening, which consisted of only the show’s first, half-hour episode. That most likely speaks to timing and competition more than anything else, but “Deadbeat” was nonetheless met with more silence from its onlookers than any other entry in the Episodic section.
Yet Konner was right — “Deadbeat” could have easily passed for a network pilot and is certainly better than some of the dreck that’s been picked up over the years. The show has its fair share of kinks to work out. The humor is rarely laugh out loud funny, even with a likable cast spitting well-timed jokes. But there’s a certain charm to the look and simplicity in the imagery, embodied ideally by the lead, Tyler Labine. As a pot-smoking, admittedly lazy medium, Labine plays Kevin without urgency. He cares, but he seems to move at a deliberate speed, speak in a kind if sometimes vulgar manner, and act (mostly) from the heart.
Liking this cheerful, easy-going central character simply for those reasons may be the product of seeing too many complex dramas or mysterious heroes over the course of the festival, but a simple-minded medium who casually chats with ghosts isn’t a poor choice for the premise of a TV show. Surrounded by interesting supporting characters who we only glimpsed in the pilot, Kevin could be the perfect person to watch in eight episodes chunks while laying in bed on your day off. Hopefully we’ll see more of Brandon T. Jackson as his generous pot dealer and Cat Deely as his soon-to-be nemesis — plus Danny DeVito’s daughter Lucy in a role that’s been expanded since the pilot.
“We wrote pretty much all 10 of these scripts before we started the casting process,” Kenner said. “When Lucy auditioned, we […] changed the last three episodes to make her a much bigger role. Without saying too much, just kind of get ready.”
Based of DeVito’s successful audition, he went on to say, “For any actors that are out there, the auditions: they matter. They can actually shape things.”
Co-creator Cody Heller described Kevin as a grown-up version of the kid from “The Sixth Sense,” an idea that makes perfect sense. If the show can find its tone — lose some of the all-to-easy sex jokes, play up Kevin’s charms — Hulu could have itself one of the better digital series available. Whether or not it’s “must see TV” is another problem, but at least the cast seems committed. Labine, Jackson, Deely and DeVito were all in attendance for the screening, and Hulu is making a big marketing push in Austin as well, giving out smoothies from a food (well, smoothie) truck and hosting two parties for the show’s premiere. We’ll find out if it works — and if the show does — when all episodes are released April 9.