At first, I was surprised there wasn’t a thread for this. It’s horror, it’s a miniseries with a pedigree and even a touch of star power, and it’s widely available. Yet none of you guys is even curious about it? Oh, wait, a search result shows a few people mentioned it in one of those godawful catch-all threads where conversations go to die before they even begin. Big surprise…
Anyway, the main selling point for this is that it’s pretty much season five of Channel Zero. Nick Antosca is the guy who corralled various talent for Syfy’s Channel Zero, which started out promisingly, had some brilliant flashes, and – to my mind – really peaked with E.L. Katz’s Pretzel Jack storyline in season four…and that was the end of Channel Zero. Syfy was done with it. Canceled.
But what’s this? Nick Antosca, working with someone named Lenore Zion, putting together an eight-episode horror miniseries for Netflex, minus the Channel Zero branding? Count me in! So what if it’s based on a novel about how hard it is to make it in Hollywood?
Once you get past its tidily obligatory Hollywood-is-brutal-isms, you’ll find a nifty Bechdel-worthy contest between two women: the adorable Rosa Salazar as a young filmmaker wronged by the industry, and Catherine Keener in top form as, uh, well, I guess a homeless person who’s a witch and not actually homeless. There’s more to it than that – mysterious backstories are the bread and butter of Brand New Cherry Flavor – but what a wonderful role for Keener, and she has tons of fun with it, especially when she’s sparring with an exasperated Salazar who’s sick of her mystical bullshit. Really, these two women are reason enough to watch the series. They’re both really good, they’re both obviously committed to the material (Salazar was a producer), and they’re both given a lot of room to show their talent.
Salazar never really registered for me until I heard her doing voicework in an animated series with Bob Odenkirk. She’s really good. And she’s tragically wasted in Alita: Battle Angel, where Robert Rodriguez thought it would be a great idea to draw cartoon eyes over her face. But it’s all her in Brand New Cherry Flavor, which she lends a lot more than just her face and voice. There’s a great physicality to her performance, and she’s a commanding presence here. There’s also a sense that she really trusts the filmmakers here. She’s willing to do weird stuff. She doesn’t seem to have an ounce of vanity, whether it’s spitting up bodily fluids, Cronenberg sexual body horror, being wigged out on psychedelic drugs, or just romping around in a horrible outfit (I kept wishing she’d go home and change during the last two episodes). Her and her character’s willingness are a delicious contrast to Keener’s wizened languid cynicism.
Then there’s Eric Lange, a character actor you’ll probably recognize, but have no idea where you know him from. His (intentionally?) awful wig won’t help matters. I pretty quickly recognized him from a horror short called AM1200 that I really like, but he’s one of those actors with well over a hundred credits*. Brand New Cherry Flavor basically uses him as a whipping post. The storyline is mostly concerned with how he gets ground up as the relationship developers between Rosa Salazar’s hungry young filmmaker and Catherine Keener’s weirdly wordly witch. He’s the perfect progtagonist in a post-#me-too era.
This is another one of those scripts that probably should have been a ninety-minute movie. But because it’s stretched over eight episodes, ranging from a half hour to fifty minutes, you get to spend a lot of time with the main actors, and they’re all three well worth the time. In fact, if this were a ninety-minute movie, I’d probably wish it were a miniseries to give the actors more time with each other.
As the story progresses and secrets are revealed, it’s pretty obvious that it’s going to end up in one of about three or four conclusions. Unfortunately, I feel that it picked the least interesting conclusion. And on the way there, Brand New Cherry Flavor has its share of contrivance and filler. This wouldn’t be my favorite season of Channel Zero, but it would be my favorite cast. None of the other seasons had this much acting talent on display.
It also looks very much like a season of Channel Zero. This is especially true of the production design, which prefers sets where it can do playful things that might not be possible on location (mysterious doors, a jungle greenhouse, out of control vines, a chaotic Beverly Hills mansion). At times, Brand New Cherry Flavor looks like experimental theater. This was also true of some of Channel Zero, and I consider that a strength. I wouldn’t be surprised if Brand New Cherry Flavor was shot on some of the same Vancouver soundstages as Channel Zero.
But all in all, it retains the same sense of horror, weirdness, and production design that powered Channel Zero. If you’re a fan of the series, the good news is that it didn’t die; it just shed its title.
* I was close. He only has 93 credits on IMDB.