Endless possibilities in HBO’s ‘Room 104’

One room, 12 new stories. Season three of Jay and Mark Duplass’ series, “Room 104,” follows the same format as its first two seasons, with each story taking place in one room of an American hotel room: Room 104. Just as before, each episode of the HBO anthology begins with a very simple plot, and just when you’ve gotten comfortable, the rug is pulled out from under you with a massive (and often grotesque) twist, making way for a climax that leaves audiences shell-shocked.

One of the best things about the show is how unpredictable it is. With each episode comes a new cast, a new genre, and a new twist. There is absolutely no way to predict what could possibly happen in that drab and unremarkable hotel room, and that unpredictability continues in season three as the creative team proves again that there is an unlimited number of possibilities for what this room can do. As drywall workers, post-apocalyptic refugees and Executive Assistants to Satan pass through Room 104, each episode brings a new twist or turn.

Strong episodes feel like a complete story, leaving the audience wanting more. They are concise, but detailed, with a dramatic twist leading to a satisfying ending. The audience feels connected to the story and its characters, and in some cases, even feel emotional upon its conclusion. Episodes like this are what make the show worth watching. A prime example of this is episode seven, “Jimmy & Gianni.” A mockumentary set in Room 104, “Jimmy & Gianni” follows the story of a father and son, both artists, as they work together to turn the ordinary hotel room into a work of art. This is one of the tamer episodes of the season, but it is full of heart, laughter and suspense.

Not every episode is as successful. Unfortunately, with a show as unpredictable as “Room 104,” that leaves a lot of room for inconsistencies. This is one of the negatives of the show, and this season specifically. Oftentimes, there is so much setup to an individual story that by the time the twist comes, the audience is bored and unengaged. A 30-minute episode feels like it could be cut down to fifteen minutes if the setup of the episode wasn’t so extensive. Episode six, “A New Song,” especially feels this way. In this episode, a singer-songwriter sets up shop in Room 104 to work on a new album. As she works on her music, she finds herself in what appears to be a fantasy, tapping into a painful past. The setup in the episode takes so long that by the time any sort of twist happens, the episode is half over, the audience is no longer engaged, and the episode is not effective for audiences. While it is clear that the creators were simply trying out something new, it does not allow for a coherent and entertaining episode for audiences.

In a show that is as experimental as “Room 104,” credit has to be given to the writers and directors for being so willing to play around and take risks with the form and style of every episode. This show’s team is constantly experimenting and trying new things with every episode, which is commendable, but it allows for both hits and misses, which makes being an audience member difficult at times.

“Room 104” functions more successfully than it should. Stuck to the confines of one room, the show should have run out of places to go ages ago, but thanks to the writers, creators and directors, it seems that there is always somewhere new to go, even if it’s only for a short while.