In Monday’s season finale of Dispatches from Elsewhere, we finally learn the backstory of one mysterious, recurring character, with the unexpected entry of another into the narrative.
Titled “The Boy,” episode 10 of the freshman AMC drama opens on a boy in a black-and-white world, watching such classics as The Muppet Show and Harold and Maude on his small retro TV. Inspired by what he’s seen, the boy becomes an actor, ending up in the clown makeup we’ve seen him wear since episode 3.
Auditioning for a room of executives with a rendition of “Make ‘Em Laugh”—the iconic song from Singin’ in the Rain—the young thesp shoots to stardom, only to realize that show business isn’t all he hoped it would be.
Subsequently, we transition to a meeting where a familiar face describes his struggles with alcohol, and how lost and empty he feels after being used up by the industry that made him a star. At first, we think this is Peter—the character that series creator-star Jason Segel has played throughout Season 1. Soon, though, we learn that this isn’t Peter—that the person speaking is Segel, himself.
After the meeting, Jason bonds with Simone (Eve Lindley) over his inability to figure out his next move. He is then quickly inducted into the same mysterious game (or social experiment) the series has explored all along.
Setting out to find himself, Jason surrenders to the unknown, learning a couple of fundamental lessons along the way: 1) Neither he nor his pain is unique, and that’s OK; and 2) the only thing he needs to know at any given time is what to do next. Following confrontations with Simone and the boy in makeup (i.e., his younger self), Jason learns to take responsibility for his life, his choices and his pain, channeling the new perspective into a script called Dispatches from Elsewhere.
The season ends with Jason sitting in a field, surrounded by the series’ key characters, who comment on what they’ve seen. Jason directly addresses the audience—and in the series’ most meta moment yet, the camera pans out to reveal the entire cast and crew who brought Dispatches from Elsewhere to life.
Speaking with Deadline ahead of tonight’s broadcast, Segel discussed the inspiration behind the finale, the challenges of crafting his first series, and the prospect of a second season for the AMC anthology.
DEADLINE: How long have you had the finale for Dispatches in mind?
JASON SEGEL: The whole season was really planned out. It’s so intricate, the way the storylines interweave throughout the season, that there really wasn’t another way to do it, besides having it all pretty firmly planned by the time we started shooting. We had basically all of the scripts by the time we got into production, so I was driving towards the finale, all the way from the end of the pilot.
DEADLINE: In the finale, you bring yourself into the series’ world. How did you decide on the version of yourself you would play, and how honest you would be with that performance?
SEGEL: Well, I guess first off, the whole premise of the show is that we are all much more alike than we are led to believe—and if we were willing to be brave and honest with each other, it would be met with a familiar acceptance. “This person is me, in a lot of ways.”
So, what I asked myself was, do you mean it? [laughs] Do you really believe that? And if so, then prove it. So, that’s when I felt like the finale was an opportunity to say, “You know this premise of the show that we’ve been selling you, that we’re all in this together? Well, here. I’ll go first.”
DEADLINE: You’ve talked about this series as a more grown-up version of what you did with Forgetting Sarah Marshall, in terms of “baring it all.” In the case of that film, that phrase took on a quite literal meaning. But here, in a move that’s strikingly personal, you take us into your experience with Alcoholics Anonymous.
SEGEL: Well, I don’t talk about that specifically, for reasons of anonymity, but I do go into my journey…You know, just like we wrote Clara in the show, and the way that we use the little boy as a metaphor, you really set out into the world thinking that you’re going to accomplish everything and take the world by storm. Then, I think we all go through these different trials in our life—and to me, the more we talk about them with each other, the more freedom we have from them.
DEADLINE: Dispatches from Elsewhere is based on an “alternate reality” game created by artist Jeff Hull, which was depicted in the 2013 doc The Institute. Reportedly, you went through your own version of this experience as an initiation into Hull’s world, with hopes of securing the rights necessary to make the series. Was the finale intended, then, as a re-creation of that experience?
SEGEL: Yeah. The experience that I went through, I did right as I was doing End of the Tour, this movie about David Foster Wallace, so I was also reading Infinite Jest, and contemplating all these kind of lofty ideas about meaning and art. So, I think it caught me at exactly the right time—or we caught each other at exactly the right time—because I reacted to it in such a visceral way, where I thought, “Right. This is what good art is supposed to feel like. It’s supposed to make you feel taken over; you’re supposed to feel like a part of it, not just a witness to it.”
So, I really reacted strongly to going through the experience, and tried as hard as I could to make the TV show feel that same way. That was our big challenge, going through it. Like, what is the artistic value of taking a three-dimensional, living experience and turning it into a two-dimensional TV show? That’s when I started to have these ideas about [the series]—that it had to be weekly, so a community could form around the show and talk about it, and then to make the finale interactive.
DEADLINE: The finale’s interactive segment features a number of people directly addressing the camera—saying, for instance, “I am Melissa, and I am you.” Who did you have record these videos?
SEGEL: There are some people involved tangentially with the show, who we let be involved in the finale. But then, there has been, all along, an interactive component of the show that has been going on in the background, in the digital space. People who solved certain puzzles were encouraged to submit videos, so they’re the faces of the community that formed around the show.
DEADLINE: News hasn’t yet come regarding a second season of Dispatches. Do you have any updates?
SEGEL: I have no updates, no.
DEADLINE: Have you thought through ideas for a second season? Tonight’s finale seems like a natural conclusion to the series. But at the same time, Dispatches has been couched as an anthology, which could lend itself to new characters and storylines.
SEGEL: Yeah, it can be either an anthology or a limited [series], depending on how we decide to proceed. But the idea is that each season is stand-alone—and without giving too much away, each season would profile a specific thing, as the [Jejune] Institute was profiled in the first season.
DEADLINE: Do you have a sense of whether this might be the last time we see our four main characters—Peter, Janice, Fredwynn and Simone?
SEGEL: No, no idea.
DEADLINE: Assuming that’s the case, do you have notions of what might happen to them down the road that you can share?
SEGEL: I don’t, you know? I like the ellipses of it all. I like us imagining what might happen to each of those characters—will they stay in touch, [or] will they not. One of the things I love best about movies that have really impacted me is that they allow my imagination to do some of the work.
DEADLINE: As the first series you’ve created, in which you also star, what kind of learning curve did Dispatches from Elsewhere present?
SEGEL: It was definitely “trial by fire,” as our line producer said at the end of it, “though you started by doing the hardest thing.” I think there’s some truth to that, but I also had a lot of help. I had a lot of really talented people around me, and it really was a community that made the show. But yeah…I haven’t had moments where I felt like, “Oh my gosh, I might not pull this off” in like 20 years, and I had a ton of them on this show. So, that was really kind of thrilling. Like, I’ve never had an experience where you show up to shoot one day, and the set is locked. [Laughs] It’s like “Wait, what do we do now?” and you’re like, “I don’t know…I guess we can rewrite it to be out here.” It’s really cool, man. It felt a lot like when I was making stuff when I was in my early 20s.
DEADLINE: Clearly, this is a very personal project for you. What were some of the best aspects of bringing it to life?
SEGEL: I think the first thing you said about it being a personal project is really key, because one of the things I’ve realized, especially as I’m getting older, is that they should all be personal projects. You only get to make so many things, and especially to do it like this—to start with idea, and carry it all the way to it existing—it’s a lot of time and work. So, you start to ask yourself, “What is worth that work and time?”
To me, I’ve found having something that you really want to express, when the only way you know how to do it is through art, is a really good motivator. It felt like everybody involved was there because they had something that they wanted to express, so that was a real joy. From the DP to the art director, to the costumer to all my actors, everyone was there because they had something to say, and that was really cool.
DEADLINE: Dispatches began airing in February, prior to the new normal of self-quarantine brought on by the coronavirus pandemic—and now, as Season 1 wraps up, it’s almost hard to recall what life was like before it. It seems like the times we’re living in now have accentuated the themes of your show—particularly, the need for community.
SEGEL: To me, the pandemic has highlighted those elements that were already rearing their head. It’s been a really strange several years, and not just politically. I think we’ve had the best of intentions with things like social media, but I think the jury is still out on if it actually brings us closer together, or if we’re just sort of staring at our phones all day. [Laughs] So, I don’t know. It’s clear because I made the show, but I’ve been feeling this way for a long time.
DEADLINE: How has the pandemic affected you? Have you been writing throughout this period?
SEGEL: I am, yeah. You know, first, my heart and mind are with the people who are suffering, so it’s largely that. Then, besides that, you start to think about, “What do we all have to say about this period?” None of us have experienced anything like this, so to see how we process it, I think will be a really interesting thing, over the next few years.
DEADLINE: What’s next for you? Will we see more TV series from you in the future?
SEGEL: Yeah. I have some shows in mind that I’ve been writing, and I have some scripts done. And I always have movies in mind, so I’m working on all that kind of stuff. It’s interesting: These things have a life of their own. One or two of them tend to become like the alpha idea, and turn some of the other ideas into runt ideas. So, I’m just waiting to see what emerges from the litter.
DEADLINE: Have the How I Met Your Mother creators ever approached you for a possible reboot or spinoff?
SEGEL: No. Honest to God, we literally have never had that conversation…But who knows? Maybe someday, Lily and Marshall [will] have their moment in the sun.
DEADLINE: Recently, you’ve said that you’re more interested in working behind the camera than in chasing roles. Do you see yourself continuing to act, outside of the projects that you spearhead?
SEGEL: Yeah. I mean, listen. There is nothing more peaceful than doing a movie where you’re just an actor, where you just have one job. It may be my favorite time in my life; I feel really, really comfortable and happy when I’m doing it. [But] my career has never been built that way. The parts that I wanted to play were never coming very easily to me, so one of my first instincts was, “Well, then write them.” So, I think that’s like part of my DNA now, is if you’re not getting offered the parts you want to play, then create them.
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