Are you bored with TV shows that make sense? Are you looking for something indecipherable? Then “Dispatches from Elsewhere” just might be the show for you.
To be fair, this new AMC series is intentionally confusing. It’s designed that way so that you’ll pay attention. This is not a show you can keep track of while you’re doing something else. You’ll have to turn off (or, at least, set down) your cellphone, sit on the couch and focus on the screen.
And, even then, expect to be baffled. The actors in “Dispatches from Elsewhere” certainly were.
According to Sally Field, she and other cast members were “all constantly saying, ‘Huh? What? Wait a minute, wait a minute — let’s get this straight. Where are we? What are we doing? What are we finding out? When did we last know that?’ And in that way, this is not a normal piece under any circumstances.”
No, it’s not.
The series, from creator/executive producer/star Jason Segel (“How I Met Your Mother”) is based on the 2013 documentary “The Institute,” about Games of Nonchalance, an alternate-reality game that was all the rage in San Francisco from 2008-11. An estimated 10,000 people played, after responding to weird flyers posted across the city, which drew them to the fictional Jejune Institute. And that’s exactly the way that “Dispatches from Elsewhere” begins.
“I found it really moving,” Segel said, “that a bunch of people from totally different walks of life — socioeconomically, politically, ethnically — were all taking part in this thing because something was missing from their lives.”
“Dispatches from Elsewhere” premieres Sunday (8:08 p.m. Dish and DirecTV; 11:08 p.m. Comcast). Episode 2 airs Monday (8:15 p.m. Dish and DirecTV; 11:15 p.m. Comcast). It changes the game’s venue to Philadelphia, where four very different people team up to play the game and solve a mystery.
Peter (Segel, who also wrote and directed the premiere), is a sad-sack worker drone looking for more in life. Simone (Eve Lindley) is a trans woman desperate for her life to take off. Janice (Field) is a retiree suffering from loss. And Fredwynn (André Benjamin) is a conspiracy theorist who’s convinced there’s something dangerous about the game.
Is the head of the Jejune Institute, Octavio (Richard E. Grant), the leader of a dark conspiracy? Is the anti-Jejune Elsewhere Society just part of the game? Is this really just a game, or something more sinister?
The game itself involves searching for someone named Clara … but it’s considerably more complicated than that. (No spoilers here.)
In addition to the confusing narrative, Segel tells the story over 10 episodes in some weird ways — including animated sequences. Again, it’s all intentional.
“I think that we’re inundated with so much television that it is very easy to zone out when you’re watching something,” Segel said. “As much as possible throughout the season, I tried to use unconventional storytelling to force you to pay attention” because “you might be receptive to the theme that we’re trying to communicate.”
What, exactly that theme is isn’t completely clear. Although you should keep in mind how the series is being promoted: “This show is for you if you believe there must be more.”
“Dispatches from Elsewhere,” we’re told, is an anthology, so the first season will end with some sort of closure. Presumably. Or not. Segel prefers to be completely vague about what a second season would look like.
“I actually don’t want to give too much away about what might happen if we were lucky enough to continue,” he said. “The whole thing is an interesting, fun, exciting experiment, so we’ll see where it goes.”
By the way, he’s experimenting on us.