I know The Curse is supposed to be a comedy (and it’s a cringe-inducing one at that), But can we talk about how every episode turns up the Lynchian vibes to give us plenty of scary moments that will haunt us for a good long while? “Under The Big Tree” ends on one of those moments. For there is nothing scarier, I find, than Asher trying to be “funny.” And yes, that demands to be put in quotation marks because my god can Asher (Nathan Fielder) only ever approximate what it means to be actually funny. He’s sometimes like an AI simulation of an awkward regular guy, with all the glitches in human kinds of comedy as you’d expect.
But the fine line between humor and terror Asher’s sense of humor straddles (see also his delivery of “Ah, spank you!” or his attempt at impersonating an old man) is all over The Curse. Indeed, we haven’t had quite as discomfiting as intro as this week’s: You know you’ll be disoriented when you’re forced to witness Dougie (Benny Safdie) waking up…in his car…with the words “under the big tree” written on his hand. What does this mean? What kind of mystery does it open up?
Perhaps in true Dougie, the mystery is both simple and absurd. Turns out he bullied a few underage kids into giving him their key cars to avoid them drunk driving and saw fit to bury their keys not under the biggest tree around (per his hand) but under the thinnest, skinniest one around. This all seems like an excuse to further show how committed Dougie is to being a walking Don’t Drink And Drive PSA…and also a reason for him to randomly excavate a piece of pottery he’ll squirrel away as a keepsake.
I’m burying the lede, though: Flipanthropy got picked up! For 10 episodes. And with a few exec notes (namely, less of the building community angle…more flipping houses into eco-friendly homes). But Asher and Whitney (Emma Stone) are now about to maybe become household names. Which is great news for their business venture. Less great for their community-building message, which, arguably, is already backfiring.
Take Vic, their first home buyer in Española. Sure, he improbably decided to live in one of Whitney’s mirrored, passive homes. But he also likes his stir fry and thus did away with his induction stove (hello gas!) and knows his packages are being stolen (hey constant surveillance!) and has put the neighborhood on high alert. He’s clearly not interested in either of Whitney’s plans for these homes (a gas stove makes the home no longer passive) or her bigger plans for a slew of newcomers who are, as she’d promised her neighbors, “in harmony with the community.” Indeed, much like his new home, he’s all too happy to be quite insular and insulated from his neighbors—all of whom Whitney has a ball saying hi to on her way to gently nudge him toward, well, not being an asshole about his packages and printing one of those “Package Thief!” flyers that are all too common in gentrifying areas.
Their interaction reminds us of the many pitfalls of gentrification. Which Whitney and Asher want in an abstracted sense (as in they need to sell these homes to those who can afford them) but not in any real sense (it’s also why they’re trying so hard to not focus on how much they’re displacing locals in the process). Such blindspots are all over how Asher and Whitney operate: Every time they try to do good, they find they can’t get out of their own way, their own biases eventually laying bare how much they don’t notice that they’re the problem (cue a certain Swift song).
Like, the only reason Asher is dropping by with food for Abshir (Barkhad Abdi) and his daughter is because he’s still deathly afraid of the curse young Nala put on him. A curse he remains convinced is real. And yet it’s unclear how all the home repairs he’ll do on their apartment (he sets out to test for mold this time around) will do him any good.
Likewise, Whitney’s decision to help Fernando land a security job is hampered by her insecurity about him carrying a gun right outside her store. And rather than confront him (lest she be taken for that kind of white lady), she farms out the request to her employee, who happily engages with Fernando and presumably gets him to agree to leave his gun at home. She’s so attentive to others’ privilege (like Vic’s, say) that she remains blind or oblivious to her own. Therein lies the crux of The Curse, a series about the bumbling ways in which well-meaning white folks carelessly cause distress and destruction when they move through the world thinking they’re the only ones making it better.
- Quick costume poll 1: Dougie’s Guns N’ Roses tee or Whitney’s Greenpeace tee? (Trick question: correct answer is Vic’s Seinfeld one.)
- Quick costume poll 2: Whitney’s bucket hat or Asher’s cowboy hat? (Trick question: correct answer is NEITHER.)
- Did you catch Whitney saying “I can’t believe this is happening to me!” while on the phone with the HGTV exec?
- May we never hear Fielder say “Uncle Asher” ever again. That was rather scary as well.
- Whitney walking into a spiritual retreat sort of space (replete with platitude-laden neon lights) felt like a brief respite from all that’s happening in her life… curious to see if it goes somewhere or if it’s just another reminder of the makeshift communities Española is assembling already.
- Dougie claiming he was cursed (and that’s what led to the accident that still haunts him) is…well, fucked up is one way of putting it.
- Asher’s instinct to retrieve Vic’s $70,000 induction stove is a good one. But as with all thing Asher, it backfires. He doesn’t want to be seen on his security cam and so refuses to help his worker haul it up unto the pickup truck (“C’mon! You’re jacked! You got this!”) only for it to fall and break.
- In case anyone wanted a quick comedy 101 lesson, here’s what was on the board during Asher’s corporate comedy class, which Whitney obviously pushed him to attend so as to improve his onscreen comedy chops: “Be Honest. Don’t [TRY TO BE] funny. Rule of 3.” Namely: all three rules Asher broke simultaneously.
Stream The Curse now on Paramount+.