tv review

Lodge 49 Is a Very Odd Show

Wyatt Russell in Lodge 49. Photo: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

Lodge 49 is your classic dramedy about a fraternal lodge, conspiracy theories, a surfer dude mourning his dad’s death, workplace misunderstandings, extramarital affairs, and the occasional surprise removal of a tapeworm.

In other words, this new AMC series is definitely an oddball. Its idiosyncrasies can be frustrating for the same reasons that its lead character, Sean “Dud” Dudley (Wyatt Russell), can be frustrating: It meanders and takes a while to get to the point, and even when it gets there, sometimes the point still seems muddled. But it earns credit for embracing its weirdness and being unlike practically any other show that’s currently on TV. Which is a bold statement considering how many shows are currently on TV.

Dud is a rudderless, couch-hopper from Long Beach whose personality contains trace elements of Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High and the Dude from The Big Lebowski. Lodge 49 introduces him during an afternoon spent scouring the sands with a metal detector, where he discovers a ring with an image of a lynx on it and soon discovers that it’s associated with the Order of the Lynx, a Masons-like fraternal order with a local chapter known as Lodge 49. After visiting the lodge, he decides it’s his destiny to become a member, so he begins to ingratiate himself with the men and women of this long-standing, mysterious institution, including Ernie (Brent Jennings), the man who’s next in line to become the Lodge’s leader, or “Sovereign Protector.”

Numerous side plots and additional significant characters spring from that central conceit. Ernie, who works in plumbing, pursues two obsessions: his belief that a secret mastermind is manipulating local business deals, and his relationship with Connie (Linda Emond), a married fellow member of the Lodge with whom he’s having a longtime affair. Dud’s sister Liz (Sonya Cassidy) can’t decide whether to continue selling herself short by working as a waitress at Shamroxx, a hybrid of Hooters and Bennigan’s, or to finally force herself to aim higher. In the first episode, the reason that both she and Dud are so lost is revealed: Less than a year earlier, their father died and left them in tremendous debt, so they had to sell the family home and lost his pool-cleaning business, which had been Dud’s source of employment. That means Dud is constantly desperate for cash and relying on a shady pawnbroker for really lousy loans.

There’s more: Dud has a snake bite on his ankle that won’t fully heal and means he can no longer surf. Larry, the current Sovereign Protector, is having health problems that might put Ernie in charge permanently. (By the way, Larry is played by Kenneth Welsh, also known as Windom Earle from Twin Peaks, which is a genius casting choice given the mythologies about lodges that surface in both shows.) And yes, there’s a whole layer of cryptic backstory behind Lodge 49, and it involves alchemy and ancient scrolls from Egypt. There’s even something unsettling about all the layoffs at Orbus, a local company that’s basically become a ghost town.

This is a lot for one show to tackle, and it can all feel overwhelming at times. Creator Jim Gavin, author of the novel Middle Men, and showrunner Peter Ocko, whose credits include The Leftovers and Pushing Daisies, don’t quite make these separate parts feel like a cohesive whole, at least not right away. They take their time to reveal key pieces of information, which is fine as a narrative strategy as long the viewer stays interested along the way. Lodge 49 struggles on that front a little; I didn’t feel really invested and intrigued until episode four. (There are ten episodes in this first season, and each one is an hour.)

That said, if you can find the time and stamina to hang with Lodge 49, you’ll find some pleasures in the show, starting with Russell, who may look familiar from the Richard Linklater film Everybody Wants Some!!, or the “Playtest” installment of Black Mirror, or the fact that he’s the son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn. His acting style makes him the perfect choice to capture Dud’s laid-back, generous optimism. Another actor might make Dud seem like a dolt or a slacker, but Russell plays him as misdirected rather than lazy. He’s the kind of guy who won’t take initiative, but if you tell him what to do, he’ll jump right in to help. The notion of a slacker who is actually more than he seems, possibly even special or an engine of fate, has been done before — see My Name Is Earl, The Big Lebowski, or even Hulu’s Future Man but Russell is endearing enough for us to accept him in that role, even if it is a familiar one.

Meanwhile, Lodge 49 does its best to skid away from the familiar. Hidden rooms are revealed at odd moments. A mummy makes an extended cameo appearance. A seal scoots across a street and almost gets hit by a car. At one point, a lodge member is in the middle of a speech when he suddenly pulls a rather long tapeworm out of his nose. These touches may make Lodge 49 sound like a work of fantasy or horror, but it’s not. Honestly, I don’t know what genre to call it. Maybe it’s a workplace/lodge-place philosophical dramedy?

Philosophical is an adjective that becomes a more apt descriptor as the season progresses. The characters’ struggles and their dialogue, which gets sharper and more quotable in later episodes, both point to their desire to understand the meaning of life. “People always go looking for unicorns when we’ve got rhinos,” Ernie tells Dud. Out of context, it doesn’t make a damn bit of sense, but within the world of Lodge 49, it actually does. Which is true about a lot of things on this show.

Some of Lodge 49’s best and realest moments happen in work settings, especially as it relates to veteran employees feeling threatened by the young or getting pushed out altogether by them. When Connie, a newspaper reporter, gets laid off by an editor several decades her junior, he shows her a press release that explains the company’s mission going forward: “In an age of accelerated transformation, our mission is to become an industry leader in the curation, optimization, and monetization of hyper-content.” When Connie asks what that means, all her editor can come up with is: “Things are moving fast!” It’s pure Tronc-speak, and it’s funny because it’s true.

Things don’t always move fast on Lodge 49. But if you have the time and the patience, you may find a lot to like about it. This show may not be a unicorn, but I’d say it’s at least a rhino.

Lodge 49 Is a Very Odd Show