‘Dispatches From Elsewhere’ – Jason Segel’s foray into the surreal
Viewers who know Jason Segel from his comedic work in “How I Met Your Mother” or “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” will find him in unfamiliar and somewhat otherworldly territory in an anthology series debuting this week on AMC.
In “Dispatches From Elsewhere,” a 10-hour series premiering Sunday, March 1, Segel stars as Peter, a 40-ish Philadelphian feeling like something is missing from his uber-mundane life. Answering an ad on a flier, he’s summoned to the mysterious Jejune Institute, where he encounters its imperious founder, Octavio (Richard E. Grant, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”), who exhorts to Peter that he is indeed special and destined for more. Moved to tears, Peter buys in wholeheartedly and soon meets other unfulfilled souls.
Among them are Simone (Eve Lindley, “Outsiders”), a trans woman with a fear of intimacy and feelings of not belonging; Fredwynne (Andre Benjamin, “Jimi: All Is by My Side”), a man of great obsessions; and Janice (Sally Field, “Forrest Gump”), an older woman feeling lost following her husband’s death. All are seeking direction in life and all have a belief in “the magic.”
The story is the brainchild of Segel, who based it on an actual social experiment that took place in San Francisco a decade ago, in which, among other activities, participants searched for a missing fictional girl. In “Dispatches,” that girl’s name is Clara.
“My starting point was: Who pulls a flier and why?” Segel explains. “And I was really interested in picking four versions of isolation, feeling separate, feeling like ‘the other,’ and slowly bringing them together until we realize that we’re all the same. And so that’s where I came up with these four characters. And at that point, I knew how to write a love story. It’s something I’m good at.”
The first four episodes are dedicated to each of the characters, with the opener, “Peter,” introducing him to viewers and eventually Simone, with whom a mutual attraction quickly develops. Lindley, a trans actress, had never before seen a trans character portrayed as a love interest and so was intrigued by that storyline and what she considered a well-rounded character.
“I was so, like, moved by the fact that it was one of the best depictions of a trans character that I had ever read,” she says. “She felt so close to me and I felt like I knew her and I felt like I could tell her story. And it was really great because Jason allowed me to interject a lot of myself into her, and you know, we really worked together to bring her to life, I think.”
Another character in the story is the city of Philadelphia, which Segel says he chose for its juxtaposition of urban beauty and grit.
“Philly stood out because the show was about finding the beauty in unexpected places,” he says. “… But it also has more murals than any other city in the country. It’s one of the most art-laden cities that I’ve ever been to and it felt like the exact metaphor of our show. The beauty is just all around you, down every alleyway but you walk by it every day.”