The Curse is an extremely uneasy show that plays to the strengths of creators Nathan Fielder and Benny Safdie.
This review of The Curse was written having only been provided with 9 episodes out of 10.
From the second The Curse starts, you are immediately placed in deep discomfort. The show follows couple Whitney (Emma Stone, of Poor Things) and Asher Siegel (Nathan Fielder, of The Rehearsal), who have come to Española, New Mexico to film a reality show which would track their pursuits to make this town as eco-friendly as possible. Throughout filming this show, the Siegels find themselves in numerous ethical, moral, and financial gray areas which put an extreme strain on their relationship. The Curse ultimately asks: is this couple made of good people, and is their reality show doing any actual good?
During the first episode, Dougie (Benny Safdie, of Good Time), the lead producer on the Siegel show, asks Asher to give money to a little girl who is selling something in a store parking lot. He only has a $100 bill on him, so after they film the quick scene he asks for the money back but she says no. Asher ends up snatching the bill out of the little girl’s hand, and in anger she says, “I curse you.” During the series, when it seems like the Siegel’s lives are falling apart, Asher questions if that curse had any merit to it.
There is so much going on in The Curse that it’s hard to find a place to start discussing it, since I have truly never seen anything like this before. Nathan Fielder, who is the co-creator and director of most of this season’s episodes, is known for his shows that push the limits of reality tv, and the awkward interpersonal dynamics that he can create in a controlled setting. Benny Safdie, the other co-creator, is known for making extremely anxiety-inducing films. The Curse is somehow able to be extremely awkward to the point of cringe, but, at the same time, it still has a menacing tone that makes an overall stress-filled viewing experience.
Some scenes are so awkward that I had to actively try to not cover my eyes or ears. Fielder creates them by allowing every scene to play out as long as it can. There is minimal editing, so that you can see every character’s face during an entire interaction, and when you think that it could not get any worse, someone says something completely unexpected, and we have to sit in the scene for at least a few more minutes. While the tone of the show is so unique that it is hard not to acknowledge its brilliance, it can also get exhausting at times to sit in that tension for hours, even more so since this is a ten episode show.
Since a lot of scenes in The Curse are very drawn out, it allows for the main three performers to give some of the most believable performances I have seen in a tv show within the last few years. Most of the time, the creators of a show want to paint their characters in a certain light to guide the audience’s opinions of them. The Curse does the opposite. We follow Whitney, Asher, and Dougie throughout the planning and filming of this reality show, and they each act differently depending on what they are doing and who they are with. Stone, Fielder and Safdie give slightly varied performances from scene to scene, which is fascinating to watch. Their performances make these character’s feel like real people thus making you more invested in the overall story.
Emma Stone is the clear standout. She makes Whitney extremely layered, to the point that you are always unsure what her true intentions are. The Curse is an extremely complicated show that juggles different storylines, but Stone easily anchors it all into reality with one of the best performances of her career. She is so precise that even if she does something as subtle as looking at a character in an unusual way, it makes you interpret the scene completely differently. Absolutely no one could have played this role besides Stone, and after people see The Curse, there should be no doubt that she is one of the most versatile actors working today.
The Curse is extremely satirical. This entire show is a pitch black comedy that satirizes wholesome reality shows, particularly one that would be on HGTV or another channel that creates family friendly content about the building and selling of homes. A lot of people watch these shows because they are usually very feel-good and they show that people are trying to make a positive impact in their communities. The Curse questions if any of these shows are actually doing anything productive, or if they are pretending to make change so that they can make a profit.
From the start of the first episode, it seems like Whitney and Asher are genuinely trying to make a difference, but their privilege keeps hindering them from doing anything actually meaningful. For example, when they are visiting someone in the community who they perceive is lower income, they bring bags upon bags of groceries. When they arrive, they realize that they have more than enough food already, and that the cabinets are stocked to the point that there is nowhere to put all the unwanted groceries.
Interactions like this constantly happen throughout the show, which makes a greater argument about white privilege. A lot of times, people assume that they know how to help others in need best, just because they have unlimited resources and the desire to do good. However, if they took a second to ask the communities they are trying to help what they need, it would be a lot more productive. In The Curse, it gets to the point where this rich couple just keeps throwing their money at Española and the members of the community are understanding that Siegels are not doing it to help Española, but to affirm to themselves as are good people. In the first episode, they even repeat to themselves and others just how good of people they are.
This is just one way to look at how satire works in The Curse, but the show is so thematically rich that I could probably go one for at least ten more paragraphs picking apart what exactly the creators of the show are trying to say. There is so much going on that it is hard to stay present watching at times. The main plot is about the Siegels and their reality show, but time is also taken to explore the effect this show has on the community, how this show is affecting Whitney and Asher’s marriage, and finally the curse that is placed on Asher in episode one. Each of these plot points has enough content to sustain a tv show of its own, but since each episode juggles all these plotlines, many times the episodes feel convoluted and exhaustive.
Overall, The Curse is an extremely one of a kind show that is sure to spark up a lot of conversation. From the performances to the eerie direction, it is not an easy watch, but one that is socially and politically relevant. Having seen only nine episodes of the first season, I cannot wait to see how it all ends. I am sure it will shock myself and audiences alike.
The Curse premieres Friday, November 10 on streaming and on demand for Paramount+ subscribers with the “Paramount+ with SHOWTIME” Plan, ahead of its on-air debut on Showtime on Sunday, November 12, at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
Come back on January 12th for our review of the season finale.