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The Disturbing and Creepy ‘Room 104’
July 28, 2017  | By David Hinckley

If your sleep issue is that you don’t have enough nightmares, several episodes of HBO’s new Room 104 should be just the antidote you were looking for.

Room 104, which premieres Friday at 11:30 p.m. ET, is a weekly anthology series that’s billed as a comedy.

Its 12 first-season episodes are, it’s true, sprinkled with laughs. They can also get pretty disturbing.

Created by Jay and Mark Duplass, seemingly on a day when they were feeling particularly demented, Room 104 each week presents a different drama, with different characters, in one nondescript room of what looks to be your basic budget motel.

Some of the stories are funny and even goofy. Others are troubling. Some are both, in the tradition of dramas that maintain a horror façade while shooting regular winks to a knowing audience.

With several episodes, however, the average viewer’s takeaway is going to be that this is weird and unsettling.

The common thread is that we always sense from the opening minutes that we’re about to witness a significant moment in the lives of the main characters. Then, to the credit of Room 104, we usually do.  

In Friday’s opening episode, a babysitter named Megan (Melonie Diaz, top) comes to Room 104 at the request of a single father who’s going out for the night

He needs someone to watch his son Ralph (Ethan Kent, top), who he says “has an active imagination.” Dad can’t actually introduce Ralph to Megan, because Ralph is in the bathroom, and as Dad rushes out the door he also doesn’t see any need to check Megan’s references, because “you seem like a nice girl.”

The rest of the show is Megan and Ralph: their awkward introduction, their quality time eating pizza and watching a TV show, some startling remarks from Ralph about why his mother isn’t around, and then the disturbing turn to which everything has been pointing.

Like most subsequent episodes, Friday’s doesn’t come to a neat conclusion, one way or another. It fades out in the middle of what could be the punchline, leaving loose ends blowin’ in the wind.

If you’re looking for nightmares, this can be an effective way to induce them, and it underscores the debt Room 104 owes even in its non-horror episodes to the original unsettling TV show, The Twilight Zone.

Like The Twilight Zone, Room 104 tells its stories without frills. The set is the room and few episodes have more than a couple of characters.

It’s instructive how chilling or how amusing a conversation between two people in a motel room can become with the right premise and a crisp script.

Like all good drama, Room 104 lets some of its seeds incubate and flower in the listeners’ minds. Other times plants and harvests them itself.

Mostly, though, Room 104 sets up both its comedy and its darkness with the most ordinary sorts of calm everyday behavior and conversation.

Not a new idea, but a good one.

Sleep tight, gentle viewer. 

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