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With 'One Dollar' Following the Money is Literal
August 30, 2018  | By David Hinckley
 

If you think a dollar doesn’t go very far these days, the new CBS All Access drama One Dollar might persuade you to reconsider.

Over the 10-episode first season of One Dollar, which launches Thursday on CBS’s subscription streaming service, a single one-dollar bill makes its way through virtually the entire population of Braden, Pa., buying everything from a beer to some darkly uncomfortable ethnic prejudice.   

Oh, the people this dollar bill meets. If it only had vocal chords, the stories it could tell.

But it can’t. That’s the job of creator Jason Mosberg and showrunner Craig Zobel, who work hard to shape One Dollar into the kind of edgy, un-routine murder mystery that CBS hopes will encourage viewers to pay for All Access instead of just watching regular CBS shows.

One Dollar gets part of the way toward that goal. It’s a decent if sometimes dense tale filled with ripped-from-the-headlines references like steel tariffs and the “fake news” red herring.

Different episodes of One Dollar, whose new episodes will roll out every Thursday, bring in new characters with new stories. The throughline is an apparent murder, or perhaps multiple murders, at “the mill,” the giant factory that for decades has been the beating heart of Braden.  

In Braden as in hundreds of other Rust Belt towns, the mill these days seems to be barely hanging on, along with the workers lucky enough to still have jobs there.

Those workers include Garrett Drimmer (Philip Ettinger), who at one time would have led a decent life as a mill worker.

In the 21st century, he’s got his back to the wall. He lives in a tiny place with his toddler daughter, trying desperately to juggle work with some sort of family life. When we meet him, he’s even fallen behind on payments to the woman who watches his daughter while he’s at work.

His scrambling for survival money also sends him out on shady midnight “jobs,” during which he leaves his sleeping daughter locked in her room alone and prays nothing goes wrong.

One of the few thin rays of light is his boss at the mill, Bud Carl (John Carroll Lynch). “Pops” seems to understand what the workers face, and they trust him.

Needless to say, it shocks the whole town when two early-shift workers come in one day and find blood all over one of the machines. A couple of days later, young Sheriff Peter Trask (Christopher Denham) reveals that lab tests showed the blood had come from seven different individuals.

That said, One Dollar has a lot more on its mind than a crime scene without bodies. For starters, Braden still has a rich elite that hangs around the country club sipping exotic drinks and thinking of ways to make money from the town’s economic misfortune – while folks from the other side of the tracks debate whether they can afford to stop at the bar after work for a beer.

The bar is an early stop for the dollar bill. It’s not a crescendo moment, though, nor are most of its subsequent appearances. While any exchange of money anywhere can probably be extrapolated into a minidrama, what mostly happens here is that someone new gets the bill and the story goes on.

By the second episode, we’re deeper into issues of class and race, plus the longer-term challenges facing a mill town in the age of tech.

One Dollar isn’t another one of those procedurals that CBS some years ago turned into an art form. It’s perhaps a little closer to American Crime, the great anthology series on ABC a couple of years ago, or closed-end HBO series like Big Little Lies.

That’s not a bad model. While One Dollar isn’t perfect, it weaves disparate elements together to remind us that every social unit from a family to a town inevitably must work its way through the flawed thoughts and actions of its inhabitants.

By the midpoint of the series, the dollar bill itself has become largely a travel guide, making introductions and then letting human nature take its course.

To get to the dark inner truths of Braden, Pa., we need to do more than just follow the money.

 
 
 
 
 
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