Review: Netflix’s Brand New Cherry Flavor is a gruesome delight

BRAND NEW CHERRY FLAVOR (Nick Antosca, Lenore Zion). All eight episodes available to stream Friday (August 13) on Netflix Canada. Rating: NNNN

I don’t know who Brand New Cherry Flavor is for, exactly. I don’t even know if it can be considered “good” by normal metrics. Its whole deal is gruesome, preposterous madness – and keeping the rules of that madness just out of focus. But even when we don’t understand what’s happening, it all makes a cracked kind of sense.

And that means this eight-part Netflix adaptation of the 2011 novel by Todd Grimson will be embraced by admirers of eccentric, weird takes on Los Angeles culture like Under The Silver Lake and, yes, David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. Though I doubt Lynch would think to go to some of the places Channel Zero’s Antosca and Zion are more than happy to take Grimson’s tale of a young filmmaker, Lisa Nova (Rosa Salazar, of Alita: Battle Angel and Undone), who arrives in Hollywood sometime in the early 90s and is immediately swindled out of her big break by an asshole producer named Lou Burke (Eric Lange, late of Escape At Dannemora and The Man In The High Castle), who options her short film for a feature and immediately cuts her out of the loop. In her rage, Lisa turns to a very strange woman who calls herself Boro (Catherine Keener) to burn Lou’s whole world down. Lisa gets what she wants, eventually. But there’s a very messy price to be paid.

Lisa’s commitment to revenge – and Antosca and Zion’s commitment to going all the way with the story – is what makes Brand New Cherry Flavor so compulsively watchable. The show keeps piling wild twists and unpredictable complications into each episode just to see how much worse everything can get. And it can always get worse.

And through it all, Salazar and Keener’s performances are a delight, especially once Keener’s character reveals the reason for her perpetually nonplussed attitude and Salazar shifts her own intensity into a different, more overtly comic key. Lange’s sneering scenester is equally well-calibrated, in that you cannot wait for his comeuppance to arrive.

Here’s the really compelling thing: for a show that features self-loathing A-listers, backstabbing Hollywood producers, weird art galleries, undead bikers, inexplicable kittens and a couch that doesn’t do anything but somehow seems very threatening just the same, Brand New Cherry Flavor is weirdly, compulsively relatable. I don’t know if that says more about me than I would like to admit, but I couldn’t get enough of it. I cared about the characters. I wanted to know what would happen next.

At its dizzying peaks, it’s like watching some lost European cult movie from the 70 where no two actors were speaking the same language on set and the director was probably gobbling mushrooms between takes, but everyone understood the vibe.

This is a show, after all, where someone can literally eat someone else and have a perfectly good reason for doing so. Come to think of it, the show pays special attention to everything that goes into (and out) of its characters; part of Boro’s curse requires Lisa to eat nothing but a specially prepared stew for 24 hours, which means Lisa has to cart around a Tupperware container full of what looks like month-old oatmeal for most of an episode – requiring Salazar to incorporate it into everything she does like a prop comic. Lisa’s ability to roll with whatever impossible shit comes her way is also a clever device to get us to buy into the escalating weirdness; the place Brand New Cherry Flavor ends up is light-years away from its starting point, and yet there’s a clear path from A to B to whatever ancient rune ultimately stands in for Z.

Give Brand New Cherry Flavor a shot is what I’m saying, I guess. And no, I don’t know what the title means. But it has the right vibe, and that’s all that really matters here.


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