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The Final Season of 'Room 104' Arrives on HBO
July 24, 2020  | By David Hinckley

It hasn't been easy to make a TV series these last few years that feels different since the avalanche of programming has filled just about every crack.

HBO's Room 104, whose fourth and final season debuts Friday at 11 p.m. ET, achieves "different."

Created and produced by the Duplass brothers, Jay and Mark, Room 104 is an anthology series wherein each half-hour episode tells another story that unfolds in the nondescript Room 104 of a nondescript motel.

Each episode can contrast sharply to the episodes that surround it. There's romance, horror, comedy, and so on, all shot with a deliberately low-budget look. Whole episodes, including the premiere of season 4, look like they could have been shot on a camera phone.

In fact, some have been. There's a hand-held look to most of the filming, and this season's opener, subtly titled "The Murderer," features several extended facial close-ups that come very close to disturbing.

"The Murderer" isn't the slasher film the title might suggest. Neither would it be confused with a rom-com.

Mark Duplass (top), who wrote the episode, plays Graham Husker, a legendary musician who released one cult-fave album in the 1980s and then disappeared. Really disappeared. His car was found in 1994 with a note saying, "I'm not a musician."

Lost music legends have a certain romance about them, both in real life and in a novel/film like Eddie and the Cruisers.

"The Murderer" plays that mystery note well, particularly in its portrayal of how Husker's rather low-key return is greeted by some of his fans.

It shakes down like this. An older and still reclusive Husker meets a young, maybe 20-something fan named Logan (Logan Miller), and for reasons that are never clear to anyone, tells Logan to bring four friends to Room 104, and Husker will play them some songs.

The setup feels surreal enough that we're ready for almost anything. For his part Logan, brings along three male music geeks and one woman, Katherine (Hari Nef), who's a little more suspicious of the whole deal.

Duplass' script captures the constant wrong moves of fanboy geeks perfectly. Logan does and says all the wrong awkward things, and his clumsy attempt to defy Husker's wishes and film the performance ends very badly for Logan's phone.

In contrast, we never quite understand what Katherine is doing there, or how her relationship with Husker soon becomes very different from that of the guys who worship him and can't believe their luck at being in his elusive presence.

Duplass plays Husker as a guy with a whole lot of problems and a mercurial attitude fueled by the refreshments he required Logan to make available.

Purely for appearance, Husker seems to be modeled after Neil Young. His songs, written by Duplass, aren't quite in that league, but they serve the dramatic purpose.

Because Room 104 doesn't spend a lot of time or money on location shots or large casts, it can poke around the quirks and neuroses of the characters it does focus on. Some are more interesting than others, but even in the lesser episodes, there's always an excellent chance of seeing something that's, well, different. It's a roll of the dice that pays off enough to make the gamble worth taking.

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