The Overnight

The Overnight is a good example of why I prefer movies over television.

You see, The Overnight is about a couple named Alex (played by Adam Scott) and Emily (played by Taylor Schilling) who have just relocated to L.A. The move has stressed their relationship, and Alex is desperate to make new friends in the city. So when a pretentious hipster named Kurt (played by Jason Schwartzman) and his cute wife Charlotte (played by Judith Godrèche) introduce themselves at a park he is overjoyed. The two couples immediately make plans to have a dinner date.

At first their pizza party is going perfectly, but things start getting weird once the kids have been put to bed. For starters, Kurt insists on showing a video of his wife's "acting" in an instructional video about how to use a breast milk pump. And then it gets even weirder when they retreat to Kurt's art studio, which is covered from wall to wall with abstract portraits of buttholes.

Most viewers will pick up on where this is going long before Alex and Emily do: Kurt and Charlotte are obviously swingers who are trying to seduce their new friends. However, it isn't clear if Alex and Emily are going to be game for it - there is clearly a part of them that wants to, but they are also deeply afraid to swim in those waters. What follows, then, is a game of will-they or won't-they which is pitched right between comedy and drama, between butthole paintings and serious worries about fidelity and trust. 

Now, the Overnight's tone is not particularly sit-com-y - it is far too serious for that because  its main characters feel like people, not stock types, and so the relationship issues it examines take on some real emotional weight. But anytime I'm thrust int the middle of a will-they or won't-they plot I automatically think about sitcoms because that plot has been a staple of the genre for over thirty years, going back (at least) to Sam and Diane on Cheers. Hell, both of the Overnight's leads have starred in shows that have milked that plot for all it was worth - Adam Scott's character Ben Wyatt spent a long time agonizing over his potential relationship with Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation while Taylor Schiller's character Piper Chapman has been in an on-again/off-again relationship with Alex Vause for three seasons of Orange is the New Black. 

The key word in that last sentence was "milked" - those plots tend to drag on and on. That sort of erotic tension is fun at first because who doesn't like flirting? But it is hard to stretch it into a full season of anything without becoming annoying. At a certain point it becomes obvious that the characters should have already made up their minds and they are only vacillating between the two poles so that the show can fill out a random number of episodes - and I almost always find that sort of arbitrary stalling to be insufferable.

No, I like the Overnight's approach: set up the story quickly, tell it once and then get out. I liked these characters, and I was entertained by their ethical quandary - but that was in large part because 90 minutes is almost exactly the amount of time I can spend thinking about someone else's personal drama before I get bored. Any more than that and it starts to become repetitive because sexual tension is only compelling in the short term. At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter if those people will or if they won't because people enter into (and get out of) relationships all the time and either way life goes on. Piper and Alex's ill advised romance was exciting at first, but thirty hours later it was making me want to claw my eyes out.

I recognize that my argument might not be particularly persuasive to a die-hard TV fan; after all, I might just be watching the wrong shows or watching the right shows in the wrong frame of mind. Regardless, the fact remains that it is a lot easier to find the first scene where a character contemplates hot tub sex compelling compared to the fifth, and so I'm glad that I only had to watch a character face that specific conundrum once this go-round. At the risk of giving the Overnight some backhanded praise, I'm thankful that it's story took place in one night and not over two months - that was just enough time to provide the perfect amount of jokes about pornographic paintings, neither skimping on the sphincters shots nor overdoing it on the asshole imagery. Truly, it is as if this movie was written by Goldilocks - a filthy, filthy Goldilocks, but a Goldilocks nonetheless.

Winner: Me

The Overnight on IMDB