[Editor’s Note: This article is presented in partnership with HBO in support of Room 104, which premieres onJuly 28 at 11:30 p.m. ET.]
“Room 104” isn’t like anything else you’ll see on television this year. The new half-hour, genre-bending HBO series features a number of unique facets, but they all relate back, in one way or another, to the creative minds of Mark and Jay Duplass.
The writers, producers, directors, and actors known for breakout independent films like “The Puffy Chair” and “Cyrus” as well as award-winning television like “Togetherness” and “Transparent” have come together to create the latest exciting original series on the Home Box Office network.
Set in a single room in your typical American motel chain, each week tells a different story and all 12 episodes of Season 1 were produced by the Duplass Brothers. The tone, characters, and era can all change week-to-week, and viewers should be ready for drama, comedy, horror, and at the start of each new entry. What unites each story is the common search for connection and meaning in this crazy life of ours.
But there’s so much more to appreciate about “Room 104.” Below, we’ve listed the seven most exciting aspects of Season 1. Read. Imagine. Enjoy.
1. The Golden Age of Anthologies
Much has been made of our ongoing golden age of television, but one if its best byproducts has been the revived anthology genre. Series like “The Night Of” and “Big Little Lies” were only possible because of the resurgence of limited series, brought on by early successes like “True Detective.” Audiences have responded to distinct stories with definitive endings, and their enthusiasm has been rewarded with a dozens of fresh, unforgettable works.
“Room 104” is the latest entry in the burgeoning category, offering standalone arcs from two men who are well-versed in constructing them. Mark and Jay Duplass have excelled in short films (like their breakout, “The Puffy Chair”), half-hour stories (like “Togetherness”), feature films and more long-running narratives. Their range of projects shows they’re comfortable with slowly building carryover elements — like the deepening history and mystery of the room itself — and closed arcs. The latter point brings us to…
2. ‘Room 104’ is Two Anthologies for the Price of One
“Room 104” is an episodic TV show. For those millennials out there who grew up with predominantly serialized narratives, that means each weekly episode can stand by itself. It’s connected to a larger story, but fans who miss an episode won’t be dinged for being busy that week.
In “Room 104,” that larger story is the setting. The room develops over time as we jump from story to story within it, switching characters, time periods, and genres each week. The episodes are unique, but one could argue the main thread connecting them is the Duplass brothers themselves. They produced every episode, Mark Duplass wrote or co-wrote seven of the 12 entries, and Jay Duplass stars in Episode 4, “I Knew You Weren’t Dead.”
Their hands are all over this series, even though they brought in a bevy of additional talent to help out.
3. Meet the Great Young Filmmakers of Tomorrow
“This seemed almost like it could be a Triple-A ball club for what we wanted to do in films later on,” Duplass said during the first screening of “Room 104” at the ATX TV Festival in June. And his analogy holds up. Just check out Season 1’s directors list:
Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, Patrick Brice, Marta Cunningham, Doug Emmett, Megan Griffiths, Dayna Hanson, Chad Hartigan, Ross Partridge, Sarah Adina Smith and So Yong Kim all helm episodes, and each was invited in to lend their distinct creative voice to the mix.
With the Duplass brothers helping choose their ballclub and offering tips and techniques from the clubhouse, this team has come together nicely — and couldn’t ask for better player-managers.
4. This. Cast. Is. Incredible.
The Duplass Brothers have worked with some pretty incredible people over the years, and their magnetic draw for talent continues in “Room 104.” Take a look at the cast list for Season 1:
Hugo Armstrong, Davie-Blue, Melonie Diaz, Jay Duplass, Veronica Falcon, Adam Foster, Ellen Geer, Keir Gilchrist, Philip Baker Hall, Sarah Hay, Poorna Jagannathan, Orlando Jones, Ethan & Gavin Kent, Amy Landecker, Konstantin Lavysh, Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris, Keta Meggett, Natalie Morgan, Ross Partridge, Karan Soni, Dendrie Taylor, Tony Todd, Will Tranfo, James Van Der Beek, Mae Whitman and Nat Wolff.
Jay Duplass bringing over “Transparent” co-star Amy Landecker is an enticing pairing. Any time you can get Mae Whitman in a project, it’s a good thing. Karan Soni is an under-utilized character actor deserving of a bump in stardom. And what we’ve seen of James Van Der Beek so far has been pretty darn awesome.
Most of these cast members are taking on a bigger role than they’re usually given, or they’re breaking from expectation to play against type. But the diversity of these stars is something the Duplass Brothers are particularly proud of. You’ve got a child actor like Ethan Kent and a screen legend like Philip Baker Hall; there’s an array of cultures represented on screen, from Russia to India to Puerto Rico and more; men and women populate both sides of the camera. It’s an exciting collaboration of diverse talent, all guided by a pair of experienced and open-minded producers.
5. Filmmakers are Making Some of Today’s Best Television
The Duplass Brothers weren’t the first filmmakers to make the shift to television, but they’re part of an impressive movement who are making the small screen more cinematic than ever.
Oscar-nominated director Jean-Marc Vallee made his premium TV debut earlier this year in “Big Little Lies,” bringing his focus-shifting handheld style to a mysterious tale that greatly benefitted from his shifting eye. Steven Soderbergh spent two years making “The Knick” into the most visually dazzling — yet period authentic — program on television. Cary Fukunaga brought Nic Pizzolatto’s vision for “True Detective” to stirring life with stunning long takes and a particular sense of place.
All of these filmmakers have seen great success in the independent film world, just like Mark and Jay Duplass. That they all have had impressive debuts on television indicates an ever-dwindling line between mediums; whichever format and length fits best for the story they want to tell is the one they choose to work with; that TV has become a more exciting home for many filmmakers only speaks to the growing fandom for serialized content overall.
6. Original Ideas are Thriving
Sequels are for the movies. TV is all about new characters, fresh storytelling, and original ideas. Just look at the array of content that hit HBO this month: “Insecure,” a story about a lower-middle-class working woman who’s finding confidence and romance in awkward day-to-day interactions; “Ballers,” which follows a former NFL star whose ambition in the business world of mega-millionaires may not line up with his drive on the field; and then there’s a little show called “Game of Thrones,” which involves a mythical land called Westeros filled with feuding ancient families and flying dragons.
These are three very different shows about very different people with very different settings, and “Room 104” is fittingly — you guessed it — very different, too. Not only will the individual episode arcs change every week, but the challenges involved in bringing the series to life is unlike anything else on TV. Realizing all these aspects while watching “Room 104” makes the experience more rewarding, which very much lines up with the experience of watching television in general.
7. ‘Togetherness’ Was Great, So Why Expect Anything Less?
Ah, “Togetherness”: the best two-season family comedy to feature full-frontal male nudity, ever. Mark and Jay Duplass’ first HBO series delighted audiences, chronicling the complicated family life of a couple whose best friend and sister found their way into an already crowded household.
Without context, the premise sounds like a conventional sitcom, but the Duplass Brothers — who wrote and directed both seasons — brought authenticity to the comedic moments within these inspired situations. There’s no reason to expect any less innovation in their follow-up half-hour series, “Room 104.” You’ll never know what to expect, but there are plenty of reasons to be excited.
“Room 104” premieres July 28 at 11:30 p.m. ET on HBO.