Joe Swanberg has made a career out of relationships. His filmography is full of small stories of love and friendship and marriage that always manage to say something much bigger. So its no surprise that his first foray into television is a bunch of small stories about relationships of every kind that add up to something even greater than the sum of its parts. It’s kinda his thing.
While each episode focuses on love in some form, the greatest over-arching love story throughout the series is the love Joe Swanberg clearly has for Chicago. From local breweries to Millennium Park, Chicago has never been so beautifully captured in popular culture.
Each episode of Easy is a stand-alone piece focusing on a different aspect of human relationships and interactions. Obviously personal experiences will effect how each person views each episode (which is another mark in its favor), but here is my definitive ranking of each episode, from good to great.
“The Fucking Study” (Episode 1)
Oddly enough, the first episode might be the weakest. The episode follows one couple (Michael Chernus and Elizabeth Reaser) as they attempt to prove a study stating gender normative roles lead to better sex wrong. However, out of all the relationships we encounter as the season goes on Kyle (Chernus) and Annie (Reaser) turn out a lot less likeable than most and the final note of the episode doesn’t exactly leave you with an overwhelming sense of hope or faith in the power of love.
“Art and Life” (Episode 5)
Episode five stars Marc Maron as a struggling graphic artist whose real life informs his art who meets a young artist (Emily Ratajkowski) who also draws no line between life and art. The episode attempts to start a conversation that, unfortunately, it doesn’t have time to fully hash out. It’s a conversation worth having and is one of the best arguments for a second season that returns to these same characters.
“Brewery Brothers” (Episode 3)
The one storyline that gets the most coverage in the series begins in episode three when two brothers (Evan Jonigkeit and Dave Franco), at very different places in their lives, decide to start an illegal brewery in a garage. The episode tackles familial love as well as the importance of communication in relationships, but it really takes until the final conclusion, in episode eight, to get a fully satisfying story.
“Vegan Cinderella” (Episode 2)
One of the lighter entries in the series, “Vegan Cinderella” explores the pitfalls of young love, like attempting to change your entire personality to fit your partner. I’ve heard the complaint that the young lovers in question (Kiersey Clemons and Jacqueline Toboni) use the word “like” way too much, but (as an admitted millennial myself)I honestly didn’t notice it at all. That probably only infuriates those critics more, but I think it speaks to the range of audiences this series can appeal to. Love is universal, but it looks different depending on your vantage point and Easy has something recognizable for everyone.
“Hop Dreams” (Episode 8)
Not only the conclusion of the series, but to the story started in episode three “Hop Dreams” takes the events of “Brewery Brothers” and holds them up to a funhouse mirror. We’re still exploring the themes of fraternal love, happiness and sacrifice, but it feels much weightier this time around. The weight may be due in large part by some standout performances from Dave Franco and Zazie Beetz. Again, its hitting the same beats as its sister episode, yet the feel is entirely different because the characters are in completely different places.
“Utopia” (Episode 6)
Amidst episodes tackling really deep questions, “Utopia” is a refreshing bit of lighthearted, sexy fun. Orlando Bloom and Malin Akerman star as a couple looking to explore Tinder, something they missed out on in their single lives, by finding someone for a threesome. And, what could turn dark or icky in lesser hands, is handled so brilliantly it instead serves as a much-needed bit of fun. It also contains the best representation of love in the entire series. Go figure.
“Controlada” (Episode 4)
When compromising on a couch purchase can serve as an effective and moving metaphor for a woman’s (Aislinn Derbez) inner struggle with two sides of her personality you know you’re dealing with a quality program. To say more about the episode would give too much away, but this was the moment in my binging where I sat back and said “whoa.” Also, this episode is almost completely in Spanish that adds to the overall realism and lived in quality that permeates the entire series. Swanberg has not only written a love letter to the city of Chicago, but also to the people who live there.
“Chemistry Read” (Episode 7)
This episode is much less straight forward than the others and requires quite a bit of interpretation, but that is exactly why it earns the top spot on my list. It takes one theme, being single, and looks at it from two vantages. Sophie (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is a young actress single for the first time in a long time. She’s focused on her career and excited for the opportunities single life offers. Meanwhile Annabelle (Jane Adams) is an aging actress who likely made a similar decision long ago and is now living out the after effects. It’s the age old question, can we have it all, but it’s presented in a completely fresh and innovative way.
Therein lies the genius in Joe Swanberg’s work. The ideas he tackles in this series are not new. They are the same issues couples, friends and families have dealt with since such relationships began. But each of these characters feel so real, it invokes a level of truth into each story that forces you to ask yourself the very questions posed in each episode. And that is quite an achievement for a TV show.
*All eight episodes of ‘Easy’ are available on Netflix.
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