I had been meaning to sit down and watch AMC’s “Dispatches from Elsewhere,” the mysterious TV project that had Philly residents spotting Jason Segel, Sally Field and Andre Benjamin around the city all summer long.
This week, as many of us are presented with nothing BUT time, I figured, was a good a time as any.
Filming for the show last summer caught everyone’s attention — Philly’s not necessarily a huge celeb hub — but in particular, ours at Technically Media, as we’re headquartered at the Curtis Building where a lot of filming took place in and around the building.
Spotting the filming was cool; on my second day here at Technical.ly, while eating lunch outside with Managing Editor Julie Zeglen, a very nonchalant Segel passed us on the street. And sometimes not so cool; my bus route was suspended on and off for a week or so.
Segel & Co. were spotted throughout the city, but more elusive (and apparently more interesting to me) was Idris Elba, who was filming a movie in North Philly at the same time.
This morning marks the second time this summer that I passed Jason Segel on the street, and listen, I'm not complaining,,, but @idriselba wya
— Paige Gross ? (@By_paigegross) August 6, 2019
Nevertheless, I was interested in learning more about this project, especially when I read that Segel plays a “disillusioned tech employee” who gets wrapped up in a game, loosely based on a real immersive game called Nonchalance that played out in San Francisco in the early 2010s.
I was psyched to see how closely Peter’s tech community compared to the one I report on every day, and to see all the many spots the crew filmed around the city come to life on screen.
So, while myself and much of the world work from home for the next few weeks, I decided to sit down and catch up with the show, which runs Mondays on AMC at 10 p.m
The series opens on an omniscient, narrating character explaining that you are Peter (Segel) if you wake up, walk to work, and perform the same routine (including dinner from the corner bodega in front of a Law and Order SVU marathon) every day. From what I can tell, Peter likely lives and works in or around Old City.
Our narrator gives us a closer look into Peter (and his job) a few minutes in.
“Peter is you if you worked a reliable job at a company that offers on-demand listening of over two million songs for a modest monthly fee,” the narrator says. “In addition, the company’s innovative algorithm conveniently informs you of songs you will enjoy based on your prior listening history, saving you the hassle of unpleasant and unnecessary musical exploration.”
Yep, I’ve heard some of that classic tech startup jargon around these parts.
While we don’t get to learn much more about Peter, his backstory or what his life is really like before the game begins, in the second episode, we do finally get a glimpse of where Peter works, and that his coworkers do in fact, know who he is.
I do have to give the set designers props in this episode — they perfectly captured the Old-City-loft-turned-tech-company aesthetic. With its exposed brick and abundant plants, it seems Peter’s fictional company could swap offices with Perpay or Houwzer in a heartbeat.
[Editor’s note: Indeed! Bluecadet’s head of people ops Carrie Bucci reached out to let Technical.ly know that filming took place over a few days in its Fishtown office.]
But I’ll rewind. This early in the pilot, we don’t get a lot more information about Peter — we know he is a regular guy living in a regular apartment working a pretty regular job. He doesn’t stray from his routine. He doesn’t have many thoughts or feelings about his life, or at least he doesn’t know how to express them to his therapist, we see in an early scene.
He’s stuck in this routine — wake up, work, sleep, repeat — until late one night he sees a mysterious guy leaving mysterious flyers. He calls the number, where he’s greeted personally and asked to come for an in-person meeting at 12616 S. 7th St., which Philadelphians will recognize as the Curtis Building (which, yes, faces 7th Street, but its real address is 601 Walnut St.).
After a walk through its recognizable atrium, he heads to floor 16 (which doesn’t exist, FYI) and is introduced to the Jejune Institute, “purveyors of nonchalance and a myriad of innovative ways to fill the void.”
If you’re wondering if we, the audience, ever get a more clear explanation about what exactly the Institute does, you’d better not hold your breath.
Peter’s visit to the Jejune Institute sets off a series of events — a chase by some unknown authorities, meeting another player named Simone (Eve Lindley) and their introductions to The Elsewhere Society.
The pair are matched up with Janice (Field) and Fredwynn (Benjamin) in Rittenhouse Square late one night among a sea of other people seemingly playing this game. It’s over pie at the iconic Continental on Second Street where the teammates, who vary in backgrounds, ages and occupations, really talk about what’s going on for the first time. Is it a government conspiracy? A high-level social experiment?
The characters, and myself, are split. But, as weird as circumstances are, they decide to just go with it.
And, dear reader, if you decide to watch, that’s what I suggest you do as well.
Dispatches from Elsewhere is hard to pin down into one category of television. We’re not really sure who’s telling the truth, what the objective of the game is or who to trust. And at any given time during the show, the format will shift between live action and cartoon, between Peter’s perspective or another character’s.
I will say that this show and the cast who created it did a superb job at showing Philadelphia off as its true colorful, neighborhood-y, gritty self. The ongoing scavenger hunt around the city shows off some iconic South Street joints, some lush greenery along the Parkway and a handful of stunning murals in Fishtown in just the first few episodes.
Four episodes in, I’m still unsure about what’s really going on in this show or what the characters are really after. But then again, I’m unsure about a lot right now.
So, while I continue to work and keep myself occupied through this uncertain time, I’ve decided to keep watching and take a cue from Peter, Simone, Janice and Fredwynn.
I’m just going to go with it.-30-