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The Booth at the End Season One Review

on Mon, 09/05/2011 - 00:00

The web series has made tremendous strides over the relatively short period that it has existed as an alternative means for narrative entertainment. While a handful of quality endeavors made their way onto the World Wide Web in the early days of the medium, the majority of the productions were lacking in technical quality. The stories being told were also very basic in nature, and tended towards the comedic that felt more like Saturday Night Live skits than actual television-style shows. But just as the technical values have improved over the years, so too has the storytelling, and as the medium itself has matured, the same can also be said of the content.

This shift is most signified by two dramatic web series creations that both premiered in 2011. The Kiefer Sutherland/John Hurt web series The Confession, for instance, is a Plato-style “dialogue” that debates such philosophical questions as the nature of good and evil, free-will versus destiny and the inherent qualities of human beings. The Booth at the End, meanwhile, likewise serves as a dissertation on mankind while exploring the concept of morality, how far one is willing to go to achieve their goals and the psychological consequences of our actions. Taken together, these two endeavors demonstrate the growing dramatic potential of the medium.

The concept and structure of The Booth at the End is relatively simple—a nameless and mysterious man sits in a booth at the back of a diner and assigns certain tasks to individuals in exchange for having their wishes granted. One by one, ordinary people looking for solutions to life’s trials and tribulations approach “The Man” (portrayed by veteran actor Xander Berkeley) are given their assignments and then later report on their progress. In this sense, The Booth at the End is tailor made for the technology of today in that it can be viewed as a series of sixty-two short installments via mobile phones, as five twenty-two minute episodes on Hulu or even the eventual possibility of one full-length motion picture.

While the narrative device of numerous short scenes all taking place in one locale may initially appear monotonous, the feeling quickly switches to curiosity, intrigue and anticipation. Like any good form of entertainment—whether theater, film or television—The Booth at the End realizes that it’s ultimately the story and characters that matter more than flash and style. That is not to say that the production does not have solid technical qualities, because it does. Produced by the Michael Eisner-owned Vuguru, The Booth at the End is a true cinematic achievement within the web series medium. It’s just that while its style may be subtle and setting rather simplistic, the narrative itself is what truly grabs the viewer and draws them into the world that The Booth at the End has created.

How far will a man go to save his dying child? To what extreme will an elderly woman venture to rescue her husband from the grasp of Alzheimer’s? What will a person do to reconcile with his estranged son? These are just a few of the questions that The Booth at the End asks, and “The Man” of the series appears just as curious about the answers as anyone. The tasks he assigns go beyond right and wrong, and include killing an innocent girl, setting off a homemade bomb in a busy coffee shop and stealing in excess of $100,000 from a bank. Although the “will they or won’t they” question hangs in the air throughout the web series, the reactions of the individuals to their assignments and how they handle the moral dilemmas are just as intriguing as the outcomes.

The Booth at the End wisely intertwines many of the individual storylines involving the various characters, giving the web series a more seamless and fluid flow. While “The Man” allocates one person the task of killing a little girl, for instance, the assignment of another is to protect the girl in question. Then there is the issue of “The Man” himself, as he does not make empty promises—once a task is completed, the requested wish is granted in a natural and synchronistic fashion. But is it supernatural, or simply a form of extreme coincidence?

More importantly, who is “The Man”? One client asks, “How can I know you’re not the devil?” and the response is, “You can’t.” When asked if he believes in God, “The Man” replies, “I believe in the details.” Later in the narrative, he hints that he is merely a go-between, a middle-man if you will, who simply assigns the tasks from a leather-bound book he keeps by his side and continuously uses to record the outcomes. And although his neutrality in regards to whether an assignment is actually carried out or not is evident, “The Man” often appears both surprised and relieved when someone refuses to follow through on their assignment, while likewise showing disappointment when they do.

“I try to engage online with people because I think that’s part of the world we live in now,” creator Christopher Kubasik explained to Blogcritics in August 2011. “And so I was watching the arguments and discussions, with all these theories about who ‘The Man’ is and how it works. ‘He’s not magic; he is magic. He’s God; he’s the Devil. He’s a therapist with extreme measures.’ All these great things were being floated, and my manager reminded me that I said years ago when I was working on The Booth, I said ‘the Internet is for arguing, and I want a show that will create arguments.’ So the ambiguity about ‘The Man,’ and the book, and who he is, and how he relates to the other characters. I wanted to leave a lot of room for the audience to play.”

The Booth at the End does indeed provide a lot of room to play, as well as plenty to digest, debate and keep one on the edge of their seat while waiting for the next installment. The set-up may appear simplistic, but its execution is flawless and reflects the old adage that it’s the story that matters. The Booth at the End also demonstrates that the web series medium is no longer a novelty, but a creative force to finally be reckoned with—a task that a few years ago seemed just as difficult to complete as the assignments handed out by “The Man” himself.

Anthony Letizia (September 5, 2011)

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