Spoilers owned a BetaMax player.
I won’t lie to you, I first started watching this show because they showed a video tape being restored. Add some mystery, secret societies, a story told in two different eras and the occult and I would say this show managed to hit a lot of theme checkboxes that interest me. It was a surprise that I couldn’t quite ever get into it. I was expecting the one plot twist and/or character moment that would finally turn me into a fan. You probably guess that it didn’t happen. Let’s get into it.
Archive 81 (2022) was created by Rebecca Sonnenshine. Dan Turner (Mamoudou Athie) restores old video tapes and cassettes. He’s offered a lucrative but secretive offer to restore some video tapes made by Melody Pendras (Dina Shihabi) under the condition he does it onsite in an isolated location. Melody was a student who interviewed the eccentric inhabitants of the Visser, an apartment building that was destroyed in a fire that was never explained. We see the story of Dan trying to uncover the mystery of Melody, the Visser and his sinister employer, Virgil Davenport (Martin Donovan). As Dan watches the tapes, we also switch to Melody’s point of view and timeline as she meets the weird (I am trying not to say “eccentric” a million times) dwellers of the building, discovering what seems like a cult.
There are things I did like, and even loved. Initially the main protagonists are somewhat engaging, but as the show goes on into deeper and darker themes the performances feel to hit the limits of their range. Mamoudou Athie’s Dan feels underwhelming while Dina Shihabi’s Melody goes over the top. At that point I felt Dan’s best friend Mark (Matt McGorry) and Melody’s best friend Anabelle (Julia Chan) started outshining the main characters. On top of that, the main antagonists are too bland while some of the side characters felt a lot more engaging but barely have a few lines. I actually forgot to mention Samuel (Evan Jonigkeit).
And now, scalpel. I really wanted to like it. I was sort of waiting for the movie to turn a corner and suddenly hit the right note for me to be into it. It was hitting all the right themes. But as both characters discover links to each other and develop a connection, it’s also where they seem to be underplayed (Dan) and overshot (Melody). A convoluted plot involving a large number of characters survives if most of them have made a lasting impression. That is not working for me. As we move into the shocks and reveals, the show completely loses me and by then I’m hate-watching. I wanted to see this story play out to have some payback for my invested time, but it’s not happening. The special effects, once the supernatural events kicked in (I put that spoilers line up for a reason), don’t cut it.
I don’t think I can quite say the show doesn’t work. The themes are there, there are some very engaging characters and perhaps it can even garner some fan following. But I’m just not in it, and this is one that I perhaps should have stop watching but then I’d be missing the end. A movie can disappoint me to the point of wanting to leave (or fall asleep…) but a TV show is an investment. I can stop watching a series at the beginning of a third, fourth or eleventh season when I noticed it has lost me, but not before the ending of its very first season. There’s only one show that felt mid for me for three seasons and suddenly becoming a banger on its fourth, and that’s the reason why I skip boring parts. Not as easy to do when you’re waiting for the turnaround in a show.
Not recommended. I love the theme mix, it has some decent imagery but the execution doesn’t live up. I felt some of the characters’ performances were inadequate or out of range. I can’t really point to where or what fails, but the overall result is just convoluted and felt straining to watch. That being said, it does feel like it just something that didn’t vibe with me. I which I could say “maybe” but once I’m hate-watching, I can’t really justify it. Not worth a watch for me, but I can only say that after watching it.
That will do for now.