Not so trivial, these pursuits of Hulu’s. Like Deep Throat in “All the President’s Men” told Bob Woodward, “Follow the money.” That advice is quite apt for the webisodic content business. Money brings the quality scripts, star power and production values that make it possible to watch content longer than three minutes and without a starring role for a cat. AMC Digital Studios and Hulu — both with deep pockets — teamed up to produce and distribute, respectively, “The Trivial Pursuits of Arthur Banks,” which is a rock-solid series, Web or otherwise.
“The Trivial Pursuits of Arthur Banks” stars Adam Goldberg and Jeffrey Tambor, whose names alone set the viewer’s expectation for some droll, dark humor. And “Arthur Banks” delivers. The black-and-white treatment enhances the film noir aspect, reminiscent of Woody Allen’s “Celebrity.” And, like much of Allen’s work, “The Trivial Pursuits of Arthur Banks” is a about a dysfunctional person in dysfunctional personal and professional relationships — without the Jewish neurosis.
Arthur Banks is an playwright and director, drawing on his own life for inspiration. The central conflicts are laid out in conversations between Banks and his therapist, played by Tambor. The scope of his relationships is displayed in flashbacks to the weeks leading up to opening night as well as how Banks writes them into his plays. As his relationships suffer, Banks turns the dialog between himself and his girlfriends into dialog for the stage.
The first episode opens with Banks waking up with Chloe, an underage girl. The literature on her bookshelves gives him a few clues that he’d made a very bad move. Her father’s knock on the door when she’s late for school confirms that he pulled a Polanski. This adds to the turmoil for Banks as he figures out how to deal with his broken relationship with his girlfriend, Annette.
The second episode focuses on Banks’ relationship with Cornelia, the star of his play, new girlfriend, and total hysteric. In a twist of fate, Cornelia loses her voice. Her silence and absence from Banks’ play enhances their personal relationship, but Cornelia’s understudy proves to be better in the role, and Cornelia is replaced. In turn, so is their relationship.
In the third episode, Banks discovers that his girlfriend, Sophie, doesn’t appreciate serving as his muse with the full scope of their relationship being aired on stage. She walks out of the play at intermission, leaving Banks to pursue a new relationship and source of inspiration. When he turns to an escort service to cap off the triumphant opening of the play, Sophie shows up and offers him a choice — sex or love. Did I mention this show was about dysfunctional people in dysfunctional relationships?
“The Trivial Pursuits of Arthur Banks” proves that professional original content can find — and rightfully deserves — a home on the Web. While “Arthur Banks” may be too eccentric to find mainstream appeal, even for a network like AMC, it is extremely well-written and produced. It features fully developed characters who are easy to identify with and who have a depth that other Web series have been unable to create. The show’s strong characters come from the careful writing and direction of Peter Glanz, whose short films have been shown at the Sundance, Tribeca and Cannes film festivals.
Hulu and AMC have an undeniably strong show on their hands, and Hulu has proven to be able to build audiences online. With recognizable stars and partnering with AMC, who brought us hits like “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad,” there’s little doubt that “The Trivial Pursuits of Arthur Banks” has the potential of becoming the substantive, breakout hit the Web has been waiting for. If the powers that be at Hulu and AMC Digital Studios decide to extend the series, it will certainly be worth watching. But for now, only the three episodes and five behind-the-scenes clips are available on Hulu.com.
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