Room 104





Paul Asay

TV Series Review

Every person has a story. And every shabby motel room, which has hosted dozens, hundreds, or maybe even thousands of people, have their stories, too.

That’s the barebones concept behind HBO’s uber-quirky anthology series, Room 104, but it only scratches the surface. The brainchild of brothers Mark and Jay Duplass, the tiny hotel room serves as the setting for quiet familial dramas, murder mysteries, tender romances and the occasional giant hamster. You never know what you’re going to get when you open that motel door. And that uncertainty comes with its own temptations … and dangers.

Room Service

The room has a bit of a backstory, unveiled in Season 3’s first episode. It involves a brother, a sister, a murder and a demon hobo—which illustrates just what a strange show this can be. You might be treated to a story from the 1960s or the present day. It might be a comedy, supernatural horror show or, perhaps, a musical. (One episode is told almost entirely in interpretive dance.) And even 15 minutes in, the stories can turn on you. Seemingly straight-forward dramas can careen wildly into the realm of creature-feature nightmare.

There are no real rules for what goes on in Room 104. But the show itself sports a few.

First, the Duplass brothers insist that all the action has to take place in the room itself. No wandering down to a nearby diner or skipping off to the airport for these characters. Second, the whole half-hour episode must be shot within three days. (Some directors don’t need even that much time. Josephine Decker cranked out an episode in just two days, and recorded the whole thing on an iPhone.)

And some episodes, the Duplasses admit, are sometimes just raw concepts when the episode begins. In a behind-the-scenes snippet on HBO, Mark and Jay discuss how the third-season episode “Drywall Guys” simply started as a study in roommates that don’t like each other very much, with a little bit of sleepwalking thrown into the mix.

This has given Room 104 a bit of hispter cachet in its four-season run. With an 87% “freshness” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, HBO seems to have fostered a low-wattage winner.

‘Course, like everything in the show, things are not always what they seem.

Do Not Disturb

Yes, episodes can be quite creative. But they can also be quite crass. Rated TV-MA for a host of worthy reasons, you’re liable to see plenty of skin and hear plenty of swearing. And not everyone checks out alive.

And you never know just what you’re going to get. One show might be pretty innocuous and rather touching. The next might be predicated on a tawdry sex game. Or involve a bizarre cult. Or feature a serial killer. While few episodes are clean, exactly, plenty get quite dirty as well as dark.  

To be fair, Room 104 is an interesting stop along the television landscape. But a restful place to stay? Hardly.

Episode Reviews

July 24, 2020: “The Murderer”

A young music fan hosts an impromptu concert featuring Graham Husker—an underground acoustic legend who mysteriously disappeared years before. But Husker, whose claim to fame is an acoustic album called The Murderer, has more on his mind than just singing a few old songs.

One of Graham’s requirements before performing is a keg of the beer Keystone Light. He seems to drink most of it—sometimes from the motel’s plastic bathroom glasses, sometimes sucking the beer straight from the hose. He vomits frequently (off camera, though we do hear the retching), sometimes demanding a quick “refill” of beer, which he’s liable to gargle.

[Spoiler Warning] The album turns out to be more autobiographical than his young fans anticipated. Graham sings about killing his mother and hacking her into tiny pieces, and some of the lyrics can be quite graphic. When his fans finally—and very belatedly—realize that Graham’s album was essentially a musical confession, they beat the singer and leave the room. Graham’s face is covered in blood, and he apologizes to his own dead mother—imagining that the only remaining “fan” left (a character played by transsexual actor Hari Nef) is she.

We hear the f-word about 15 times and the s-word another six. God’s name is also misused. A fan in the small audience admits that he’s “kind of drunk.” Graham seems religious. He kisses a necklace he’s wearing and crosses himself before he begins playing. Graham calls his fans “vultures,” saying that it seems like they want to “eat” him.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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