The Cosmopolitans, Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
Written by Whit Stillman
Directed by Whit Stillman
Released August 28, 2014 by Amazon
As Amazon continues to attempt to expand into original programming with their pilot season, they are promoting many of their pilots as the work of a distinct, well-known voice: “produced by Steven Soderbergh” or “created by Jay Chandrasekhar.” For The Cosmopolitans, that distinct voice is Whit Stillman, the writer-director-producer behind movies like Metropolitan and Damsels in Distress. It’s billed as a comedy about modern American ex-pats in Paris, a sort of twist on Hemingway’s classic A Moveable Feast. It’s got the same tone and slice-of-life feel as Stillman’s other works, or an HBO comedy like Girls or Looking.
If Girls attracted controversy for its lack of diversity, I can’t imagine what those critics are going to say about The Cosmopolitans. It’s all a very heteronormative, upper-class, white affair. There’s broad painting of gender roles here, too. The men are all in love with the women, and the women seem bored by the men. Stillman updated the classic American expatriate tale for the series to modern times instead of the 1930s and 40s; he could have updated the socioeconomic makeup of the ex-pats too.
The pilot is billed as Chapter One: The Heartbreakers, and each character seems to be dealing with their own sort of heartbreak. Adam Brody (best known for his work on The O.C.) is Jimmy, an American man heartbroken that nobody wants to recognize him as a true Parisian. Brody certainly knows how to deliver Stillman’s trademark clipped dialogue, and one could easily view his character as a grown-up version of Seth Cohen. His friend Hal, played by Jordan Rountree, is fresh out of his sixteenth breakup with his girlfriend Clemence, and mopes about it throughout the whole pilot. Also in on the fun is Adriano Giannini as Sandro, who seems like an Italian twist on Ernest Hemingway. He has the brusque and rough presence of Demian Bichir, sharing the trait with Corey Stoll’s brilliant turn as Hemingway himself in Midnight in Paris. In a café, they meet Aubrey (not Audrey), an American girl from Alabama who has just been abandoned by her French boyfriend Frederic. Aubrey is played by Carrie MacLemore, whose previous work includes episodes of Law and Order: SVU and Gossip Girl, as well Stillman’s movie Damsels in Distress. Together, they go to a party hosted by Fritz, and it all seems very glamourous and Parisian.
While at the café and the party, they run into Vicky, a fashion journalist and easily the most interesting character in the pilot. She’s played by the always marvelous Chloë Sevigny, who is billed as a guest star, but who is easily the most recognizable presence other than Brody. If the show is picked up to series, hopefully her character becomes more of a focal point than fleeting presence. From the very moment you see Vicky, or “the girl with the gold coat”, as Jimmy describes her, she feels special, or significant, in a way that none of the other characters do. Stillman attempts to try to coax the same instant recognition with the character of Fritz, but apart from Sandro calling him a pipsqueak, all that registers about him is that his accent is not French or American. The actor playing him, Freddy Åsblom, is Swedish, leading to the assumption that Fritz is some sort of Scandinavian, but one genuinely cannot tell.
The promotional material for the show made it seem as if Brody and Sevigny would be co-leads, but so far, it feels like a true ensemble piece with no real leads. To his credit, Stillman gives each character a chance to get in at least great line of dialogue and make an impression on the audience. Some, like Sandro and Fritz and Hal, still feel like sketches. But both Aubrey and Vicky seemed genuinely interesting, and Jimmy makes for an effective lead for the show. Given more time to develop over the course of a series, any of these characters could become a fan favorite.
The most refreshing thing about the show is its setting; in a television environment where almost every comedy seems to be set in New York, Los Angeles, or a prototypical American small town, Paris is almost an exotic choice (and yet, if it had been a movie, it would have been too obvious). It hits all the notes a show set in Paris seemingly has to have, but manages to avoid too many clichés. Sure, there could have been a less on-the-nose reference to the most famous generation of ex-pats than setting one scene in Café de Fiore, but the show seems to be working out how to balance filming in such an iconic city with its slice-of-life point of view. And the camera loves Paris, still one of the most eminently filmable cities of the world. As an American who studied abroad in Paris, it was hard not to feel like Stillman really captures exactly what it feels like during that time when catching a taxi is impossible but the metro has just closed. And surely anyone who has visited any city, foreign or otherwise, knows how magical a late night taxi ride can be, when the streets are almost empty and you’ve had just enough wine. Stillman capturing these moments, plus his knack for quotable and interesting dialogue, completely justifies the show’s potential existence.
– George Morvis
The full set of reviews for Amazon’s third wave of pilots can be found here.