Amazon Prime premiered yet another original series recently and, while I’ve bad luck with most of them I’ve tried to watch so far, I gave this one a try, and it resonated for some reason.
The ones I’ve attempted and failed after one or two episodes have been shows like The Man in the High Castle: I mean, when you’ve adapted the entire source novella in the first episode and changed one pretty major plot detail, where do you have left to go?; The Boys: I got it in the first fifteen minutes. Real super heroes are assholes.
Although Hunters was probably the worst. In theory, it should be easy to get behind a show about fugitive Nazi hunters in the 1970s despite them casting very Italian Al Pacino as a very Jewish character — what, they couldn’t find any Jewish actors in Hollywood? — but then pulling the typical Amazon Original pilot sin of going way the hell over the top in several moments.
Yes, there’s something comedically chilling about a called-out Nazi criminal suddenly gunning down his entire family and visiting friends during a suburban barbecue in order to protect himself, but did we really have to see a rather corpulent actress in a shower scene shot in intimate and graphic detail as she is eventually gassed to death in her own bathroom?
Tales from the Loop was the other major fail for me. Based on an amazing art book by Simon Stålenhag, the problem is that the series remained as static as those wonderful pictures, never giving us any kind of engaging story.
The cardinal sin of entertainment: Never be boring!
The one series that did hook me and get me through the entire season was Upload, a dystopian piece of science fiction set in the near future in which people can actually upload their consciousnesses to a digital afterlife, but as with everything else, the more you can pay, the better you get.
It was theoretically picked up for a second season, but I’ve seen nary a hint of that happening yet. As of October 27 of this year, there was still no release date. Yeah, way to whiff on one of your actually good originals, Amazon.
This brings me back to Fairfax, though. A half-hour animated series centering around a group of middle school friends who are desperately trying to be influencers, it really feels like a room full of Millennial creators decided to get together and take the piss out of Gen-Z, and boy, do they succeed at it.
In case you’re neither of those generations and/or not in L.A., let me explain the title to you. Fairfax Avenue is a street that runs north-south in the city, physically starting just above Hollywood Boulevard, but it doesn’t become significant or interesting until it crosses Melrose, which is the location of Fairfax High School.
From that point south past CBS Television City and the Grove until it hits 3rd street, it has become the new hip mecca of WeHo adjacent Los Angeles.
I think a large part of why this happened is that Melrose, through the 80s and 90s, managed to become hipster central and eventually gentrified itself out of reach, so traffic took the route of least resistance and headed south.
The really interesting thing about Fairfax, though, is that it’s really only developed on the west side of the street, since so much of the east side is taken up by large public or commercial spaces — the high school, CBS Studios, and the Grove, which is a gigantic open-air mall.
As for CBS Television City, the place is a landmark, and home to a lot of really famous shows. They shot the Carol Burnett Show there, as well as The Price Is Right, Let’s Make a Deal, and a ton of soap operas, as well as basically every three-camera sitcom CBS ever aired.
You could get free taping tickets right outside the studio. At one point, it was pretty much drive-up and self-serve, as they had them set up in a pigeon-hole rack near the artists’ entrance.
No guarantee that you’d get into the taping, of course, and if you wanted to attend a 6 p.m. sitcom taping, best be in line by 2 p.m., unless it was one of the more popular shows (i.e. Let’s Make a Deal or The Price Is Right) in which case, just show up long before dawn.
But then there was the other side of Fairfax.
For years, it was home to a lot of family-run businesses, principally restaurants, clothing shops, and salons, and a lot of them are still there. One of the mainstays of Fairfax is Canter’s Deli, which opened in Boyle Heights in 1931, later moving to its present location on Fairfax.
In the series Fairfax, it’s affectionately parodied as Schwimmer’s Deli, although I really wish that the creators had had the balls to call it Mohel’s Deli. They do mock the prices as being high, which is kind of ironic because, comparatively, they really aren’t.
But, come on — where else can you actually get challah French toast?
My personal Canter’s favorite, the corner beef Reuben, is still only $19, which is right in line with what such an overstuffed “give me a doggie bag” sandwich costs anywhere else in the city. Fries included.
But I do digress…
Another point where Fairfax managed to tap into the zeitgeist — whether they were able to write and produce it after the fact or just really lucked out — is in a scene where all of the wanna-be influences line up for the chance to buy a Latrine Branded T-shirt (don’t ask), and while they line up south to north, the visuals look exactly like a very recent influencer landing on Fairfax as well.
That would be when Danny Duncan — a late-20s entrepreneur famous because who knows why? — opened the west coast branch of his Danny’s Cream Pies ice cream store on Fairfax recently, and the line to get in ran for several blocks, right past a lot of the landmarks depicted in the show Fairfax to boot.
Speaking of Fairfax, the school the show centers on is called Fairfax Middle School, which doesn’t exist. The closest thing is Fairfax Junior High, but that’s located many miles away in Bakersfield.
The show itself is told as a fish-out-of-water comedy, with that fish being Dale, a kid who has just moved to L.A. with his family from Bend, Oregon, and who is horribly out of touch with, well, everything.
It’s kind of ironic, actually, that a kid from Oregon would be cast as the out-of-touch one, considering how many hipsters fled L.A. for Oregon in the early 00s. But it ultimately winds up working.
By the second episode, the lesson starts to come through — if you really want to be an influencer, then be yourself, and not whom you think your audience wants you to be, and that could be a really interesting through-line for the rest of the season.
Box score: For the second time only, in my experience, Amazon originals creates a series worth watching.