High Desert Patricia Arquette Rupert Friend Apple TV+ series
ManOfTheCenturyMovie Tv Patricia Arquette’s crazy dark comedy “High Desert” is a chaotic enchantress

Patricia Arquette’s crazy dark comedy “High Desert” is a chaotic enchantress

High Desert Patricia Arquette Rupert Friend Apple TV+ series

“High Desert” opens on a very California Thanksgiving. Rather than cozy sweaters and falling leaves, Peggy’s (Patricia Arquette) palatial home in Yucca Valley (located about 30 minutes north of Palm Springs) offers a sparkling pool and scuba gear. The children splash and scream. Her husband, Denny (Matt Dillon), cools off with a beer, while Peggy’s brother Stewart (Keir O’Donnell) and sister Dianne (Christine Taylor) admire the stylish décor and state-of-the-art entertainment system . Even the camera — gliding through the house in a single uncut shot — acts like a true Californian, gliding effortlessly through open doors and absent walls, paying no attention to the weather because why would anyone notice a sunny 75-degree day?

What’s hard to miss, however, are the DEA agents and their battering ram. What was once a warm but traditional Thanksgiving spirals into utter chaos as Peggy shouts orders at her guests, trying to hide money, dispose of drugs and otherwise limit evidence that will soon be used against her in court. The transition from serenity to madness is jarring, but “High Desert” never looks back — and better yet, the action-packed scene isn’t setting up a flashback. Unlike too many modern movies and shows, this isn’t an opening in media resolution. Apple TV+’s new comedy isn’t made for that. He wants to live in madness and never wants you to know where he’s going.

Created by Nancy Fichman, Katie Ford and Jennifer Hoppe, “High Desert” can be baffling in its mission to create chaos upon chaos. The main narrative picks up 10 years after that fateful Thanksgiving raid and Peggy hasn’t exactly reformed. She’s trying, sort of, but at heart she’s a cheater, a lifelong addict and a daughter who just lost her mother. Arquette navigates each episode, embracing her main character’s tornado of motivations just as she makes the complicated dichotomy of her as a well-meaning woman that she almost always lies to. Centering eight episodes (not to mention future seasons) around such a messy figure warrants some spillover to the viewing experience, which may feel overwhelming at first, but “High Desert” settles into a black comedic tone that is more fascinating and cumbersome.

Peggy’s problems tend to develop in one of two ways: usually she creates them. Sometimes it’s out of kindness, like when her colleague gets scammed by a private detective and Peggy promises to get her money back. But within those helpful gestures, Peggy tends to find a corner for herself. When she meets Bruce Harvey (Brad Garrett), the aforementioned private investigator, she Peggy does indeed ask him to return her friend’s money … but not before pouring herself a cup of coffee and offering her the services of she. You could be a private detective! You could help him with the business! She has a lot of ideas for a score here or there!

Peggy assists just enough to charm new friends, like Bruce, even if it takes relentless arm twisting to get them there. But that brings us to where her other problems stem: Because Peggy is willing to stretch the truth to fit her favorite narrative, those closest to her, primarily her family, don’t believe anything she says. He says. Stewart and Dianne are sick of supporting her. They appreciate the way Peggy took care of their mother during her last days, but now they want to sell the house and see her sister earn an honest living, which is the last thing she’s fit for or that she wants to try.

Brad Garrett and Patricia Arquette in “High Desert”Hilary Bronwyn Gayle

While Peggy balances her quest for personal salvation and love of high-stakes scams, “High Desert” often reinforces her pursuits through the strange vibes of the city’s wasteland, such as with her job as an “actor” in a Old West theme park. Despite vehement complaints from staff and a rather naïve manager, the various cowboys and barmaids can really put on a show. Firefights are fast and furious. Bar brawls expand beyond a few punches thrown: there are overturned tables, two-story falls and exploding glass. Heck, Peggy even flies into considerable melee while she hangs from a chandelier. Where some shows might have drawn laughs at how poorly staged and cheaply planned the family funfair has become, “High Desert” prides itself on building that corner of Yucca Valley with solid performances and production value.

Equally memorable quirks can be found in the combination of character and place. Bruce’s office is nothing special, but what he does there—along with Garrett’s increasingly defeated turn—makes the freeway-adjacent workspace feel less than a dozen and more one-of-a-kind. Rupert Friend (“Homeland”) plays Guru Bob, a former reporter who suffers an on-air breakdown and makes a fresh start through peace, love, and counterfeit artwork. Empowered and easily spooked, Bob never reaches his full potential – some teased secrets don’t quite pay off as promised – but Friend, all wide-eyed and dismissive, is a constant delight. (Matt Dillon, in a role you’ve seen him ace a dozen times before, brings good cheek, with a side of endearment.)

As Peggy’s plans stack up with her own problems, “High Desert” gets darker. Its violence is in the vein of the Coen brothers – raw and sudden, often with a disturbing creative flourish – while its unstructured plot can feel as long as a movie (in a bad way). But the first season never descends into nihilism, nor does it forget the sunshine inherent in its setting. What may feel like too much at times always stays true to her outlandish vision, and as a showcase for Arquette (who also serves as an executive producer), “High Desert” provides a broad spotlight. It won’t be for everyone, but neither will a 75-degree Thanksgiving.

Grade: B

“High Desert” will premiere Wednesday, May 17 with three episodes on Apple TV+. New episodes will be released every week.

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