“The Curse”: An unconventional satire

by Isabelle Fortaleza-Tan

“The Curse” is an A24 Showtime mini-series created by comedian Nathan Fielder (best known for “Nathan for You” and “The Rehearsal”) and “Uncut Gems” director Benny Safdie. The show stars Fielder and Safdie alongside Academy Award-winning actress Emma Stone in this off-kilter, unconventional social satire.

The show centers on Whitney (Stone) and Asher Siegel (Fielder), a married couple shooting a home renovation TV show for HGTV, initially called “Flipanthrophy” and produced by Safdie’s character, Dougie, in the small town of Española, New Mexico. The Siegels aspire to “improve” the Española community by building “passive homes” that run on sustainable energy throughout the town and introducing new jobs into the community. However, things start to turn awry for the Siegels and their show after a minor altercation with an Española resident leads to a “curse” being placed upon the couple. Throughout the show’s 10-episode run, themes such as gentrification, virtue signaling, the ups and downs of marriage, cultural appropriation, racial and class divisions and reality TV are explored.

“The Curse” is unlike any other show currently on television. For those familiar with the creators’ previous projects, “The Curse” is reminiscent of Fielder’s dry and often uncomfortable sense of humor, but it is also tightly packed with the skin-crawling tension of Safdie’s prior “Uncut Gems”. To put it plainly, it is an intentional, painfully awkward and constantly unfolding disaster you can’t look away from—but probably won’t want to either. Admittedly, the show does take a few episodes to get into the chaos that unfurls—however, once it does, you’re in for an entertaining yet stressful ride.

The performances of the main leads, as well as the excellent supporting cast, are stellar and successfully execute the show’s unique premise and plot. To no one’s surprise, Stone gives a compelling and nuanced performance in the role of Whitney, the charming, yet narcissistic home designer who aspires to “improve” the Española community. It is quite interesting to watch “The Curse” in the middle of this year’s Oscars season, as her role as Whitney starkly contrasts her equally as incredible Best Actress contending role as Bella Baxter in Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Poor Things.” Similarly, Fielder, who typically only plays himself, gives a performance of Asher that is not too unlike his usual characters as he is also socially unaware and constantly the “butt of the joke.” However, in his performance, Fielder manages to subtly convey that something darker is bubbling under Asher’s unassuming exterior. Although Fielder has a shorter list of serious acting roles compared to Stone, he holds his ground and the two create both hilarious and tense rapport. In addition, Safdie, who typically stays behind the camera in his projects, brings a fascinating twist as Dougie, whose intentions remain ambiguous as he constantly leaves the audience guessing whether he is a friend or foe to the Siegels.

The supporting performances of the Española residents, such as those of Nizhonniya Austin as Cara and Barkhad Abdi as Abshir, starkly juxtapose and come into conflict with their wannabe saviors, the Siegels. Collectively, the cast strikes a fascinating power dynamic of the local community versus Whitney, Asher and Dougie—interlopers who seek to exploit Española for thinly-veiled personal gain. Although themes of power and exploitation aren’t new within the world of television, the show’s unprecedented premise allows for these themes to be explored through a new, contemporary lens.

In an interview with TheWrap, Safdie explained that, when creating the show, the duo sought to create a show rooted in realism, stating that they “treated the show [and] the people in it as if they were real in a lot of ways.” After finishing “The Curse,” I believe it is fair to say that the pair have accomplished just that. “The Curse” may explore many social issues and moral gray areas, however, in the end, the show refuses to provide closure or impart moral “answers” of any sort—the ending episode even provides the audience with more questions than it does conclusions. Given the show’s already polarizing reception online, it is clear that “The Curse”whether in terms of plot, theming or pacing—will not be to everyone’s liking. However, if you are a fan of any of Safdie or Fielder’s prior projects, or just want to watch a thought-provoking show different from other shows on streaming platforms, then I strongly recommend giving “The Curse” a watch.

Featured Image via Paramount+ with SHOWTIME.

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