Convoluted stories of equally complex characters don’t always work. It’s even more of a challenge when you’re trying to woo the Netflix crowd, coaxing them to persist with a 10-hour mini-series. The beginning of Gypsy, a psychosexual drama starring Naomi Watts as therapist Jean, takes us into the various private sessions with a variety of clients: an insecure mother desperate to reconnect with her uninterested daughter; a melancholic hipster still fawning over his ex-girlfriend.
Despite a solid Hollywood coupling of Watts alongside Billy Crudup as her husband, Michael, the production feels significantly low-key. Not that there’s anything wrong with tiny budgets and indie filmmaking, but here, it feels like a no-frills attempt that only ever teases to set something interesting up.
Yet over the opening episodes, very little actually happens. Director Sam Taylor-Johnson barely musters so much as a whiff of engagement with the mundane nature of a drama that also moonlights as a thriller. At no point does Gypsy command your attention with either its dramatic or thrilling elements – largely because there aren’t any. During the time we see Jean’s character unfold, it comes across as more of a natural study than anything resembling a taut, intense exploration of her as a fascinating subject matter.
What is mildly interesting is how we quickly learn about Jean’s own insecurities and flaws as a person. By the nature of her job, she’s meant to show concern and help clients to psychologically get over whatever is in their way, yet all we see is how exposed she is as a therapist, and arguably more deluded and out of sync. As she strives to entangle herself into the lives of the people opening up to her, it’s unclear whether she’s doing it out of some twisted work method, perverse pleasure, or if she’s simply a lonely and lost soul. It appears it’s a bit of both; either way, it makes her character somewhat unstable and, once any of her lies threaten exposure, volatile.
It’s Jean’s simmering relationship with Sidney, the ex of one of her clients, that perhaps defines her as a person. Unsure of her feelings and repressed sexual orientation, she begins to act on her urges, starting to stalk this woman and impose herself into her life via manipulation courtesy of the information she’s privy to.
The big problem, especially as the first episode concludes, is that the reveal at the very end meant to hook you to watch the rest isn’t anything to get excited about. It might be interesting to someone who’s never watched any Netflix series before, or, to go a step further, any dramas over the past 20 years. Even then, you may still struggle to click with it and carry on.
Episode 2, by lacklustre comparison, doesn’t do much more in the entertainment stakes. Instead, we plod along with Watts’ unspectacular portrayal – despite the obvious issues with its scripting and dialogue she does a fair job. Sadly, it all feels way too obvious when it comes to her character sleuthing and prying into other people’s lives; the inexperienced writing on offer is often excruciating and painfully clear to see.
While the beginning of a show is meant to hook you into the rest, Gypsy immediately comes across as dull, lifeless, and particularly empty. The experience is hollow and transparent. Unless its narrative suddenly picks up, Gypsy may be one Netflix original to cut your losses and run from.
Gypsy: Season 1 is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription.