B.J. Novak’s ‘The Premise’ leaves viewers confused with its unclear take on hot-button topics 

B.J. Novak at the 2009 Emmy Awards. Photo by to Greg Hernandez via Wikimedia Commons.

“The Premise” is a new anthology series that aspires, but ultimately fails, to live up to its predecessors, “Black Mirror” and “The Twilight Zone.” Created by “The Office” star, producer and writer, B.J. Novak, the series takes on modern issues in five half-hour episodes.  

Unlike the shows it draws influence from, every episode takes place in the present day, allowing for literal, rather than metaphorical, interpretations.  

“My genre isn’t science fiction or dystopian technology. Mine is some line between realistic drama and comedy,” Novak said in an interview for “USA Today.” 

This checks out with the style of “The Office,” which iconically turns the workplace into a comedic environment. However, “The Office” doesn’t typically address issues as weighty as those featured in “The Premise.”  

Novak’s new show brings in elements of comedy, while simultaneously aiming to offer commentary on topics like Black Lives Matter, gun violence and cyberbullying. If skillfully done, the product would be golden. Unfortunately, the humor is somewhat excessive and only distracts from any overarching takeaways.  

The first episode focuses on a trial to release a Black man who is wrongly accused of tripping a policeman. The exonerating evidence? None other than a sex tape. Looking back at the tape, Ben Platt’s character Ethan catches sight of the officer tripping himself in the background. In an attempt to do the right thing, he comes forward with the tape, but in doing so, lays his entire reputation on the line. 

The episode is admittedly hilarious but compels viewers to feel sympathetic for Ethan’s circumstances instead of honing in on the larger implications of police corruption. Ironically enough, Platt’s character wishes to avoid being a White savior. Yet, that’s exactly what he becomes when the absurdity of his story ends up dominating our attention. 

Another episode involves the National Gun Lobby hiring a man who had lost his daughter in a school shooting. Absurd situations seem to be a common theme, despite the show’s goal of realism, and the ending is once again muddled.  

That’s not to say the show was bad. In fact, the two episodes currently out on Hulu are rather enjoyable. Overall, Novak does a solid job of tackling heavy topics satirically; he simply misses the mark when it comes to delivering a sense of clarity and purpose. 

In an unreleased episode, Novak collaborates with Jia Tolentino, author of “Trick Mirror.” The two create the story of a woman bogged down by a troll on her Instagram page. Another episode, screened by Billie Eilish herself, tells the tale of the lengths to which a pop star goes when visiting his former high school.  

Perhaps there is potential yet to be discovered in one of these episodes, but so far, this anthology is rather lackluster.  

It’s evident Novak went in with great intentions, but his work gets carried away with its over-the-top theatrics. If you like “The Twilight Zone” or “Black Mirror” and are looking for a bite-sized version, it’s worth giving “The Premise” a shot; however, it’s not looking like it will become a fan-favorite anytime soon.  

Rating: 3/5 

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