By Dustin Cabeal
It is hard not to compare something like Dimension 404 to the things it's clearly inspired from, especially when the opening is a narrated monologue from Mark Hamill that rings so many Twilight Zone bells, it’s hard to ignore.
What a lot of people don’t realize when they watch an old episode of Twilight Zone is that it was a showcase for the actor’s abilities. It’s very easy to remember Shatner and Takei’s episodes because they went on to do Star Trek. Robert Redford went on to be one of the biggest stars and have one of the longest careers, but it’s with the eyes of the present that we see that instead of how it was in the past.
It was a motherfucking showcase of their abilities as it was for countless other actors and actresses that were young and old. So many of the stars were at the end of their careers, but it was this bright spot at the end saying, “Here’s what I can still do.” It wasn’t a series that typecast the actor or actresses further, which is exactly what the second episode (and the first episode as well) of Dimension 404 does to stars Patton Oswalt and Sarah Hyland.
Oswalt plays, well there’s no other way to put this, he plays a character of himself. If you’re familiar with his standup act and Twitter, then nothing he does here is that far from his real-life character, but cranked to 10 in the crabbiness department. He’s a vintage Uncle figure that relishes the 80s and a time when cinema was on film and was still art. Hyland is the niece that’s outgrown the outsider stage of life and just wants to fit in and talk to hot guys and have cool friends. For some fucking reason, she decides to take her uncle to a hip, trendy theater (which is a real hip and independent theater by the way) where the guy she likes works oh and she’s invited her cool friends. Her anit-3-D uncle buys anti-3-D glasses for the 3-D movie, and when he puts them on, he starts seeing crazy shit.
The story’s twist isn’t great. Instead of delivering the message of “never quit, never give up,” it’s more like, “hey, conformity ain’t that bad.” It’s like the opposite message any teenager wants to hear, and a pill adults have long ago swallowed to maintain a steady income. It’s not that I wanted the story to twist the other way and be happy, which was my complaint with the first episode, but rather it didn’t go dark enough. The world is being destroyed, but our crew gets to live out the rest of their lives in the movie theater? Frankly, there wasn’t a message. It was just a twist in the opposite direction for the sake of being a twist in the opposite direction, and because of that, it ends up feeling very hollow and unfulfilling.
Again, the actors are just on their own. There were some notable returns from Rocket Jump the series, which was great but made it even clearer that everyone was just doing their thing and that whoever was directing them wasn’t pulling any specific performance out of the actors, but rather just expecting them to deliver whatever they wanted. In the end, everyone feels way too snarky. Everyone. It’s a room full of snark. It’s as if Oswalt set the tone and everyone copied it.
Again, this would have been a great opportunity to showcase the actor’s range, but instead, it was as if the script was custom made for them just to be what was most familiar to the TV audience and that’s the biggest shame of all. Oswalt, at the very least, playing a version of himself is still a decent bit of acting. Hyland playing a slightly different version of her character on Modern Family is still a decent bit of acting as well. It’s just a shame that they couldn’t be more than average.
Dimension 404 E.02 – “Cinethrax”
Available exclusively on Hulu