Downsized Represents an Upgrade in Episodic Drama

[show=downsizedshow size=large]Serving more as meditations on a theme than an episodic adventure, Downsized is a sometimes moving portrait of humanity dealing with the consequences of tough economic times. It’s tempting to classify the series as a production of the recession, but there’s a timeless quality to Downsized, thanks in part to the emphasis on the characters in each vignette.

Created by New York-based actress Daryn Strauss, who also acts in the first episode, Downsized premiered last summer on YouTube (though distribution via Strike.TV and DailyMotion has begun over the last two months).

Each episode focuses around an new set of characters trapped by financial circumstances with broader implications, whose lives are often touched by the occasional burst of absurdity to liven things up. The heavily handheld filming and editing style by Chris Shimojima invokes a documentary feel without pushing the narrative into a fauxumentary place; instead, it just adds to the intimacy of the episodes.

According to a director’s statement on the site, the bulk of Strauss’s cast come from an on-camera master acting class, and while the quality of the acting is occasionally a bit uneven (Chris Henry Coffey as the uptight businessman from episode 2, for example, lacks a third dimension), there are moments which truly sing. The latest episode, for example, depicts the bitter relationship between an ex-wife and husband: “And you wonder why we divorced, when you recall our marriage in assets,” she snipes early on.

There’s an empathetic nature to the writing that doesn’t necessarily flinch from revealing a character’s darker side; the only possible critique is that most of the episodes have an unfinished quality to them, which in some instances can leave the scenes feeling like just that — scenes from an acting class, showcasing performance over story. The brevity is well-executed, but slightly more complete narratives could be told.

However, that isn’t meant to draw away from the impact many of these episodes have; while more touches of humor could be included, the overall series reflects a fresh and strong voice, which is an impressive feat for a creator who’s switching between so many different subjects and characters. Downsized may not be the most marketable of series. But as a talent showcase, it excels.