This weekend sees Easy return to Netflix, and Joe Swanberg’s anthology series, about a string of Chicagoans stumbling through life and relationships, is as gently remarkable as ever. With the third season also set to be its last, we run down seven reasons why you should watch it:
1. It’s Joe Swanberg
Joe Swanberg, one of the kings of the genre that was once dubbed “mumblecore”, is a big screen veteran with a small sensibility, specialising in the kind of drama where people have existential crises, do a lot of a navel-gazing and speak in mostly improvised dialogue. He makes the leap to TV with natural ease, finding the right balance between lengthy conversations and loose narrative structures and the contained, 30-minute runtime of TV episodes that stops things becoming too wayward.
2. The cast
With lots of stories to tell, Swanberg has assembled one heck of an ensemble to bring the city to life, from Elizabeth Reaser and Orlando Bloom to Malin Akerman and Marc Maron. They all sink their teeth into the naturalistic style of Swanberg’s filmmaking, who collaborates with his actors to flesh out characters and drive events accordingly. In the hands of someone like Gugu Mbatha-Raw, you end up with an astonishing one-hander; who wouldn’t want to watch the star of Belle given a screen almost to herself for half an hour? Her episode (“Chemistry Read”) is perhaps the best of Season 1, as she attempts to find her way in her acting career, following a sort-of break-up with her boyfriend (Jake Johnson). Or, you know, there’s a chance for Lord of the Rings fans to see a whole new side to Legolas. Ahem.
3. It’s real
That combination of director, cast and material makes for a wonderfully intimate watch, with a raw quality that can easily be missing from larger, more cinematic TV series. That makes for something believable, but also honest: its very opening episode sees a married couple trying to rekindle their bedroom life, in between trick-or-treating at Halloween and looking after their kids, which builds to a hilariously awkward encounter involving terrible costumes. The awkward world of online dating crops up repeatedly, too. Eon Mora’s cinematography emphasises the intimacy without feeling low-budget, while editors Harrison Atkins and Daniel Johnson (assistant editor on Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies) do a superb job of finding conclusions to each chapter while leaving things realistically unresolved. Combined with the admirable performances, these are concise, moving, often very funny bursts of humanity; shots of intimacy that remind you what can be done with a camera, some talented actors and a heavy dose of sympathy. Sex, usually something unrealistic on camera, becomes a natural extension of conversations between these people, while fights are never clear-cut or loud. This feels less like a TV series and more like serial eavesdropping.
4. It’s romantic
The show spends most of its time tangled up in the ties of romance, exploring everything from commitment and ageing to sacrifice and identity. We see people struggle with losing themselves in a relationship, as well as the practical logistics of a threesome, and also the concerns about two brothers (Evan Jonigkeit and Dave Franco) trying to start their own home-brewing company even as it jeopardises their other relationships.
5. It’s complicated
With each of these situations come a wealth of dilemmas and difficult obstacles to navigate, and Easy doesn’t shy away from hard subject matter. Self-centred writer Jacob (Marc Maron) starts off raising questions of privacy before growing into a springboard through which to consider the #MeToo movement – a strong turn from Melanie Lynskey as a former student brings an episode in Season 3 to life with a whole new perspective that challenges Jacob, rewards us and gives a voice to someone previously ignored off-screen. Equally complicated is the married life of Kyle and Andi (Michael Chernus and Elizabeth Reaser), who decide in Season 1 to see other people, causing ripples that continue to spread throughout Season 2 and 3.
6. It’s easy to dip in and dip out
Each season takes the form of several standalone stories, a rare format that lets the loosest of threads connect it all together – you’ll often see the same person appear in the background of another person’s life – and makes it easy to dip into the show and out, so you can get a quick dose of down-to-earth drama. But over three seasons, the series also increasingly drops back in with existing characters we’ve already met, giving us another 30-minute update on their lives. That means more time with Jacob and his longtime friend, Annabelle (Jane Adams), another catch-up with Kyle and Andi’s prickly couple, but also a chance to hang out more with Jonigkeit and Franco’s beer-making brothers and musician Annie (Kate Micucci). The result strengthens earlier, less essential episodes, and recalls the wonderful web series High Maintenance (graduated to HBO original) in its use of the anthology format to examine the mundane conflicts of life on a deceptively grand scale – right down to the stirring climax, which brings us back full circle to Season 1’s Sophie (Mbatha Raw) and Drew (Johnson).
7. It doesn’t end
Easy doesn’t slow down its momentum, though, or restrict its scope; even in Season 3, we’re still being introduced to new characters, including two rival street food operators and a private detective at an eye-opening party. Easy also doesn’t race to tie up its loose ends for the people we do already know and is happy to leave things realistically open-ended – a portrait of Chicago that allows its subjects to live, breathe and keep on going after the end credits have rolled.
Recommended episodes and characters
Kyle and Andi: S1 E1, S2 E2, S3 E1, S3 E5
Jacob and Annabelle: S1 E5, S2 E5, S3 E6
Jeff and Matt: S1 E3, S1 E8, S2 E4, S3 E8
Sophie and Drew: S1 E7, S3 E9
Easy: Season 1 to 3 is available exclusively on Netflix UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription.