Originality Is Not In The Cards For Shut Eye

Hulu’s psychic crime drama feels like a dozen other shows you’ve already seen

Here’s a thought experiment: Try turning Weeds into a CBS drama. First, replace its quirky, resourceful female protagonist with a blandly handsome white dude — why not Burn Notice’s Jeffrey Donovan? — since the NCIS network isn’t all that interested in shows about women. Add a stale crisis of masculinity — CBS loves those too — that feels as old as a plot out of Shakespeare, while removing Weeds’s saving grace: its barbed, sexually explicit sense of humor. Offer some bogus Potemkin identity politics to feel vaguely contemporary while ultimately centering the show’s universe in the lily-white suburbs. Et voilà, you’ve got Shut Eye — a show whose perch at Hulu you’d only glean from a couple of famous faces and the lipstick-lesbian action. (No need to clutch your pearls so hard, viewers: The nudity seems strictly reserved for the actresses.)

Premiering on Wednesday, December 7, Shut Eye finds an outwardly normal L.A. family that keeps afloat through shady dealings edging closer to organized-crime violence. Instead of pot-peddling, the family business is tarot readings and fortune-telling. Former magician Charlie (Donovan) is your ordinary suburban dad and psychic-working-for-the-Romani-mob: He’s got a wife, Linda (KaDee Strickland), a son (Dylan Schmid), a daughter from a previous marriage who’s grown up and moved out (Eva Day), and a neon sign in his living-room window advertising his services, which include pushing crystals and lighting a candle for $500. And then, in the first four episodes, Charlie has a near-farcical stack of bad things happen to him.

Not that his life was that great in the first place: His Gypsy capos keep him on a pretty short leash, demanding frequent kickbacks and even cutting a reminder of who’s boss into his sister’s (Leah Gibson) face when she doesn’t follow the Romanis’ rules for their clairvoyants. Charlie’s ensuing midlife crisis — though it’s not framed as such by the show — takes two forms. He decides to make Linda’s heartbroken new acquaintance (Mel Harris) his next mark, even though the older woman is so wealthy his employers would prefer he just hand over a referral to them. And the fake psychic will soon realize he has real budding powers as a medium, thanks to a — wait for it — blow to the head.

Charlie isn’t entirely unhelpful to his clients, but he’s ultimately a midlevel scammer and earner for Fonzo (Angus Sampson), who’s cornered much of L.A.’s future-predicting industry. Shut Eye squanders a great opportunity for a psychic- and Gypsy-centric portrayal of Los Angeles, since its depiction of Romani-American life in 2016 feels about as revelatory as a Magic Eight Ball; “there is no sin in stealing if you are a Gypsy” is about as close as we come to a cultural breakthrough. It doesn’t help that Fonzo’s calculating mother is played by iconic Swedish-Italian actress Isabella Rossellini. (Her Louise Brooks bob looks fab, though.) And if two generic, patient-but-deadly mobsters weren’t enough, there’s a third in Charlie’s troubled client, Eduardo (David Zayas), who kills a traitorous employee so brutally in a doughnut shop it'll make you think twice about reaching for that next pastry.

Things are just as hokey on the domestic front, with Charlie’s son dabbling in his own little grift to impress girls and the swindler’s Lady Macbeth–ian wife taking out her frustrations with her too-cautious husband in someone else’s bed. (Female characters who channel their thwarted ambitions into their husbands read as tragic in the 17th century, but pathetic in the 21st. Stop wishing for your husband to realize your dreams and start something of your own, lady!) For all its stuffed storytelling, Shut Eye feels like a Ouija board: By the time you’ve seen your 12th version — and you’ve definitely seen this show before — all the magic is gone.