'Lodge 49': TV Review

Ride the wave.

AMC's quirky, optimistic and shambling new series is worth your patience and attention as it figures out the meaning of life.

It's hard not to root for a series like Lodge 49, AMC's latest dramatic comedy — partly because it's shot full of the kind of optimism and whimsy you rarely see, but also because it faces the tough task of standing out in a crowded field. Of course, the main character of Lodge 49 would look at the daunting Peak TV challenge and say, "We can totally do this."

Created and written by author Jim Gavin (Middle Men), Lodge 49 centers on Sean "Dud" Dudley (Wyatt Russell), an ex-surfer and lovable loser who is, depending on how you look at him, either impressively upbeat against life's more difficult challenges or merely a happy but dim-witted slacker who hasn't figured out that reality is kicking his ass.

Dud has been on a spiral for the past year. He went on a surfing trip to Nicaragua, was bitten by a snake and nearly died. The bite didn't heal properly, leaving him with a limp. Worse, Dud's father, whom he idealized, died nearly a year ago and the ocean hasn't returned his body. In denial, Dud has put off the funeral and wandered around Long Beach in a funk. (He also drives a funky and completely beaten down Volkswagen Thing, one of the most inspired casting decisions since Walter White's Pontiac Aztek in Breaking Bad.

If Dud is a Southern California surfer boy whose optimism lets him see the sunnier side of life, his twin sister, Liz (Sonya Cassidy), is his cynical, mostly defeated opposite. That's probably because Liz, formerly a paralegal with ambition, understands that their dad wasn't the heroic figure Dud thinks he was. Liz co-signed a loan for their father not fully understanding (though he did) that his 30-year-run at the pool supply store he owned was coming to a disastrous, debt-filled end. His death (which Liz believes was a suicide) leaves her $80,000 in debt, so she's working as a waitress at what amounts to an off-brand Hooters where the outfit is Catholic-girl plaid skirts and knee-high socks. 

Oh, and she's keeping Dud afloat financially, as he continues to make terrible decisions at the pawn shop/loan shark located in the same bleakly dilapidated strip mall that houses the family's former store (now gutted and unrented).

Where Lodge 49 excels is in its next step, when Gavin creates a nearly forgotten world for Dud to accidentally walk into — a fraternal lodge, called the Ancient and Benevolent Order of the Lynx, which seems to be dying along with the rest of Long Beach. Combing the beach with a metal detector, Dud finds one of the order's rings, tries to pawn it, finds out about the lodge and runs out of gas (again) right in front of the place, which he thinks is a sign. Luckily, the myriad alchemical mysteries of the Lynx are based on signs and metaphors designed to guide one's path — and Dud needs a path. The Lynx and the camaraderie of its disparate male and female members, especially Ernie (Brent Jennings), the middle-aged plumbing salesman and "Luminous Knight" who welcomes him into Lodge 49, are exactly what Dud needs.

Russell (son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn), Cassidy and Jennings are perfectly cast to illuminate this world in what could have been simply an eccentric tale of hope in troubling times. But Gavin also imbues the series with deeper secrets and mysteries that make the somewhat slow-developing story worth the ride. 

Lodge 49 is a lovely little show, wonderfully written with a deep, capable cast (David Pasquesi is another standout) and a welcome sense of quirky optimism and dark humor. It uses Long Beach and the ocean itself as characters; it confronts age, philosophy, dreams (both failed and yet to be realized), capitalism, hope and whimsy in ways that few series tackle. 

Cast: Wyatt Russell, Sonya Cassidy, Brent Jennings, David Pasquesi, Linda Emond, Eric Allen Kramer
Creator-writer: Jim Gavin
Executive producers: Peter Ocko, Gavin, Dan Carey, Jeff Freilich, Paul Giamatti
Premieres: Monday, Aug. 6, 10 p.m. ET/PT (AMC)