The New Yorker Presents Series Premiere Review (Season 1, Episode 1)


To pick up an issue of The New Yorker is to prepare for a meaty three-course meal. The short, often colorful news pieces near the issue’s start, are the appetizer. The comprehensive, 10,000-word profiles and investigative pieces in the middle are the rich main course. The short story and the cultural criticism in the back, easy to digest and filled with savory analysis, are its desserts.

If one wanted to subscribe to the highbrow publication but only wanted to go through one or two courses – or, to take the metaphor even further, take little bites of everything – then, they may be better off tuning into one of Amazon’s newest pilots, The New Yorker Presents. The half-hour is programmed like a magazine, even starting off with a table of contents previewing the films and features that will play during the episode. The material in this pilot connects with both the tone and the diversity of what the magazine usually covers. Nevertheless, the show turns out to be little more than tasty chunks taken out of a much larger meal.

The episode is divided into four parts, separated by time-lapsed footage of Emily Flake’s sly cartoons, like the ones that preside in the corners of the pages with long-form articles. The first chunk, a short film from Troy Miller, stars Alan Cumming as God and Brett Gelman as a stark raving mad homeless man shouting about the End of Days. Cumming and Gelman have an easy rapport, with the former hoping that the latter’s street appeal will help to warns locals of the impending doomsday.

Miller, dressed in a football helmet and a green speedo for much of the short, commits completely to his role. One wishes that Cumming would have gotten more to do than just give advice to his bodacious co-star, but the idea is clear and executed well. The short’s jazzy, city-centric score is sometimes at odds with some of Gelman’s burly vulgarity, not quite achieving the comic effect Miller may have hoped for. Still, it’s a sly couple of minutes, and the short thankfully doesn’t overstay its welcome. (It’s like a live-action version of the comedy features in the publication’s “Shouts and Murmurs” page.)

Next up is a conversation between legendary performance artist Marina Abramović and New Yorker staffer Ariel Levy. Although less than 10 minutes long, it is a curiously in-depth look at the daring artistic pieces that led Abramović’s 2010’s retrospective at MoMA, The Artist is Present, to attract 750,000 people. We also see clips from her new show, Generator, where the guests wear blindfolds, put on noise-cancelling headphones and walk around an empty space.

“Like a blind man, you have to feel energy everywhere,” Abramović explains, noting that her fatigue of a hectic, technology-driven world spurred her to create this minimalist exhibit. “With eyes closed, you see more.” While frequent New Yorker readers probably do not need a primer of this artist’s work, those unfamiliar with Abramović will get a taste of her varied career. Meanwhile, the lively conversation between Abramović and Levy is well worth the watch for fans of the performance artist.

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