Review: Web series Private Idiots cleverly captures the past year in an hour

André Sills and Oliver Ward play a pair of mismatched private investigators trying to make sense of a tumultuous year of change

PRIVATE IDIOTS (Dennis Alexander Nicholson, André Sills, Oliver Ward). Nine episodes currently streaming on YouTube. Rating: NNNN


Since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many stage actors to pivot to other things, among them Zoom plays, shows that take place over the telephone and theatre/film hybrids. Now the talented actor André Sills (Master Harold… And The Boys, The Glass Menagerie) is co-starring in a new YouTube series, and the premise and execution are timely, informative and fun.

Private Idiots is a nine-episode series about a couple of private investigators – with the title being an obvious pun on the expression “P.I.” Each entry clocks in at approximately five minutes, which is perfect to binge-watch in an hour or spread out over a few days and catch, for instance, in line at the grocery store. 

Sills plays Steve, whose Black, married-with-kids investigator contrasts with Boise (Oliver Ward), a single white hipster. The two spend each episode in their car on a stakeout; they’ve been hired to look into a scientist who may or may not be involved in a secretive deal involving a covid vaccine. 

The focus of each episode isn’t the nominal plot, which branches out – possibly – to include some international players glimpsed briefly in another car or through a building’s window. It’s the witty banter between the two as they pass the time eating burritos, comparing coffee shops and discussing all the changing protocols around the pandemic: bubbles, masks and distancing.

The investigators’ discussions touch on a lot of issues we’ve all dealt with during the past year. An episode about George Floyd’s death, soberly titled The Twenty-Fifth Of May, brings up intriguing ideas about allyship, micro aggressions and Black stereotypes. Steve’s anger and frustration in the episode – written by Sills – are palpable. And in a quietly sinister detail late in the episode, director Dennis Nicholson shows a Toronto police car cruising by their car, no doubt monitoring what’s going on.

One clever episode deals with the proliferation of entitled Karens, while another one – the actors certainly seem the most jazzed up about it – pits film director Spike Lee against Quentin Tarantino. 

Sills demonstrates yet again how adeptly he can switch from drama to comedy; and Ward, who sports a massive beard that wouldn’t be out of place in a cafe adjoining Trinity-Bellwoods Park, provides a fine foil as he gingerly steps into minefields about race and culture. 

One warning. The series – which ends on a cliff-hanger, possibly implying another season – might make you hungry. Like all classic stakeout duos, the two discuss and chow down on some tasty grub. So don’t be surprised if you find yourself craving some pancakes and chicken. Just be careful about what kind of syrup you use. 

@glennsumi

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