Lodge 49 is the perfect show for an era of spoiler-phobia run amuck.
Every show I get screeners for typically comes accompanied by a long list of things not to reveal, sometimes key details that only a monster would give away in a review — “The story of an old man mourning his childhood sled Rosebud, Citizen Kane is a masterpiece!” — and sometimes frustratingly basic plot points protected by a precious showrunner at the expense of critical cogency.
I couldn’t spoil the second season of AMC’s Lodge 49 even if I wanted to. That’s the good news. I could tell you everything that has happened in the four episodes sent to critics and it probably wouldn’t make any sense to you, even if you were a devoted fan of the first season. It wouldn’t impact the ample pleasures of those first four episodes.
But even if I wanted to, I also couldn’t really describe AMC’s Lodge 49 for you, not in concrete terms. That’s the bad news, because I want to sell you on the second season of this weird and trippy comedy — incorrectly designated as a “drama” for purposes of Emmy snubbing — which has quickly become one of TV’s most wondrous and inexplicable pleasures and will surely be in danger of a brilliant-but-canceled designation if viewers don’t tune in.
The first season of Jim Gavin’s laconic, beachside homage to Thomas Pynchon was easier to hint at. Dud (Wyatt Russell), a former surfer and pool cleaner grieving his mysteriously deceased father, is hobbled after a near-deadly snakebite and generally purposeless until he stumbles upon the lodge for the Fraternal Order of the Lynx. That introduction to Lodge 49 gives Dud new purpose, a community of fellow eccentrics and a new mentor in plumbing equipment salesman Ernie (Brent Jennings).
Meanwhile, Dud’s sister Liz (Sonya Cassidy) was in the middle of her own journey that took her from a waitressing job at a tawdry chain Irish pub into an unexpectedly eventful management training adventure. What followed was a twisty web of alchemy, Orange County real estate and labyrinthine international lodge politics, all culminating in a shark attack.
Wait. That wasn’t easy at all.
The second season is even harder to break down.
We start with an in medias res opening on a dangerously descending airplane, packed with details including Ernie in a mariachi outfit, the smiling Omni mascot in flames and a very high-profile, but easily predicted, guest star.
The season picks up six weeks earlier with Dud recovering from that shark attack; Liz in a professional downward spiral; Ernie disoriented after a recent adventure in Mexico; Scott (Eric Allan Kramer) chafing at the duties of Lodge 49 Sovereign Protector; Connie (Linda Emond) in London fighting writers block; and Blaise (David Pasquesi) throwing himself into researching texts found in the recently discovered secret room in the Lodge.
The new season has guest stars aplenty. Bronson Pinchot plays Liz’s new boss, a demanding accountant with mommy issues. Mary Elizabeth Ellis is an attorney who vows to help Dud sue over the shark attack, even if nobody has a clue who she’s planning on suing or for what. Cheech Marin gets some quality time as El Confidente, a Mexican Lynx with prophetic dreams and information relating to the sacred scroll that will give the season its shape.
That probably didn’t help, did it?
I described the first season of Lodge 49 to friends as being like Terriers without the detective work. It’s the shaggiest of shaggy dog stories, with mysticism, magic and conspiracies and all manner of wonderment told through the perspective of characters who would just as soon lounge on the couch watching HGTV or hang out at the nearest strip-mall donut shop. It’s a low-key meander through a world in which Luminous Knights, a legendary figure named The Captain, gross-as-heck brain parasites, florescent-lit temp jobs and dingy pawn shops co-exist. The second season finds Gavin moving his primary influence toward Don Quixote — already a key piece of the show’s opening credits — as Dud and Ernie’s quest for the aforementioned scrolls leads to much talk of impossible dreams.
Perhaps my favorite thing about Lodge 49, though, remains the way it juxtaposes life-and-death stakes — Dud is constantly flirting with death — against characters seeking the most basic of daily meaning and unprepared for anything on the global scale they’re facing. How do you concentrate on fate and destiny and spiritual visitations when there’s a repeat of Huell Howser’s California’s Gold playing on KCET? The writing, steered by Gavin and showrunner Peter Ocko, is a savvy blend of literate and idiotic, of enthusiastically regurgitated self-affirmation slogans and wordplay like Dud’s description of Marin’s character, “He’s not a con man! He can see the future. That’s why they call him El Confidente. He is confident! He’s a confidence man!”
Before I go too deep into intimidating weeds, let me just emphasize: Lodge 49 is funny. I put its Emmy categorizing as a drama as only slightly less egregious than Sex Education, but probably more misleading than Succession. I might have mentioned Pynchon and Cervantes, but there are bouts of tremendously executed slapstick in Lodge 49 that call to mind Looney Tunes in their cartoonish ambition. Both seasons have now delivered multiple gags that I had to rewatch multiple times to marvel at how a show this grounded on so many levels — Atlanta’s impersonation of Long Beach is somehow perfect even if it isn’t always convincing — can be so proudly goofy.
It helps that the ensemble is pretty much top-to-bottom perfection. The odd couple of Dud, approached by Russell as a version of The Dude still energetic enough to marvel at the world around him, and Ernie, a true breakthrough for veteran character actor Jennings, carry the show, but they’re not not alone. Cassidy is giving one of my favorite performances on TV, making Liz into a bruise of colorful reactions and amusement, barely covering a reservoir of pain and confusion. As great as Dud and Ernie are, Dud and Liz are every bit as good a duo and Cassidy should have been in any and all awards conversations.
I’ve quickly grown to love the full Lodge crew — not just the characters played by Kramer, Pasquesi and Emond, but each of the random figures who pass in and out of the open bar. I have unexpected warmth for Liz’s entire Shamroxx family, especially David Ury and Atkins Estimond. That’s before getting to Joe Grifasi, Brian Doyle-Murray, Celia Au and Adam Godley, who all shine. A well-cast show is one in which every actor, no matter how big or small the part, feels like they fit perfectly in this universe. Kudos to casting director Debra Zane and her team.
Lodge 49 is a show that’s all over the place and yet feels elegantly and confidently arced, rather than haphazard. It’s silly and profound, deep and frivolous. It’s impossible to describe, but whatever strange thing it is, it’s a wonderful mindset in which to spend an hour a week, so I need you to start watching, because two seasons won’t be enough.
Cast: Wyatt Russell, Sonya Cassidy, Brent Jennings, David Pasquesi, Linda Emond, Eric Allen Kramer
Creator: Jim Gavin
Showrunner: Peter Ocko
Premieres: Monday, 10 p.m. ET/PT (AMC)