In an interview with Filmmaker Magazine, Dean Fleischer-Camp described the tone of his 2014 web series “Catherine” as “The New Banality.” With “David,” he adds yet another gem to his self-described banal canon.
The five-episode series premiered yesterday on Super Deluxe and stars Nathan Fielder (“Nathan For You”) as David, a recently-fired divorcee, as we learn from an uncannily accurate Tarot reader (Sally Berman). David’s vacantly concerned psychic tells him that he has a “black stone, like a rock, growing every minute” in his chest. If he doesn’t get rid of it, his body will de-compose in five weeks — hence the five episodes.
His search for answers leads to a therapist (who stuffs David’s last bill into an overflowing money drawer), an unhelpful priest (“Sometimes the Bible is really vague”) and a small-time baseball game. After being evicted by a smiling landlady (Brandi Austin), David shows up at his ex-wife’s (Jenny Slate) house with a rolling suitcase in tow. When she asks about the suitcase, David replies robotically: “I was at an important business trip, and I just got back from the airplane.”
The stilted language and mis-matched pronouns are hallmarks of Fleischer-Camp’s writing style, which was developed over the course of his writing collaboration with ex-wife Jenny Slate in “Marcel The Shell With Shoes On” and “Catherine.” Fleishcher-Camp directs the show as well, and his singular directorial vision comes through in the deadpan vocal inflections — consistently neutral across the board — and the retro-looking sets, which are just weird enough to be unsettling without going over the top.
“David” has all of the surreal naturalism Fleishcher-Camp and Slate developed in “Catherine,” but with overtly darker tones. While “Catherine” skewered the mundanity of office life, “David” delves deeper into its main character’s psyche, and discovers a literal black rock at his very core. As David’s situation becomes more dire, ominous newspaper headlines proclaim: “More Bodies Found In Suicide Forest.” When he pays his last two dollars to enter the forest, bag of rope in hand, things do not bode well for our blank-faced protagonist. Keep in mind — this is a comedy.
The series’ eerie quality owes much to the original score composed by electronic musician Baths, credited here as Will Wiesenfeld. His slow, droning synths would not sound a bit out of place in David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks.” (Maybe Lynch’s composer Angelo Badalamenti needs an assistant for Season 3?)
Fielder’s sad eyes betray a hidden depth in David. Having perfected the art of the neutral face in “Nathan For You,” a docu-reality series on Comedy Central often described as “cringe-comedy,” Fielder uses his subtle facial expressions (or lack thereof) to dramatic effect. Fielder’s hangdog aura and vacant eyes take cringe-comedy to another level in “David.”
With roles in James Franco’s “The Masterpiece” and Season 3 of “Transparent,” Fielder’s face will likely be popping up more and more in collaborations. Fleishcher-Camp — to his credit — may be too eccentric to direct for other people, should that appeal to him. When your vision is so originally bizarre, it takes longer to get noticed. Even David Lynch started somewhere.
You can watch the full series here.