Originally posted Wednesday, August 7, 2019 by RODNEY HOfirstname.lastname@example.org on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
“Lodge 49” is an AMC show with no zombies, no martial arts, no vampires, no ghosts. While the occasional weird mystical moment occurs, it’s more like a pleasant, leisurely stroll on the beach with flawed but likable people just struggling to get by.
The show - largely shot in metro Atlanta - is a beneficiary of “peak TV,” a world where an average of 819,000 viewers on a major basic cable network still merited a second season. Why? Its fans are passionate and critics extolled its unique elements.
Quality, for AMC, trumped quantity of viewers. (It’s also how another low-rated AMC show shot in Atlanta “Halt and Catch Fire” survived four seasons.)
“Lodge 49” returns Monday, August 12 at 10 p.m. with its cast of quirky characters intact but hardly whole. Perpetually upbeat Long Beach surfer dude Dud (Wyatt Russell) survived a shark bite and remains on a quest for deeper meaning in his life.
“He’s not just this surfer dude. He isn’t out for money or success in terms of career advancement,” said showrunner and executive producer Peter Ocko in a phone interview Wednesday. “He thinks things through at a different level. That’s what makes him interesting.”
“He goes through the grinder this season,” added creator Jim Gavin. “But I think he’s all the better for it.”
Dud’s long-suffering twin sister Liz (the inimitable Sonja Cassidy), now freed of the debt their dead father had bestowed upon them, realizes that she still feels like “a zero.”
“In her own way,” said Cassidy, “Liz is still finding ways to deal with her dad’s death. And she has to keep looking after Dud.”
Cassidy is getting all sorts of praise for her nuanced portrayal of Liz. Gavin: “She is an incredibly smart Brit who gets to swagger into this character and get her American on. We feel incredibly lucky to have her. Liz is skeptical of Dud’s crazier schemes but she’s not very judgmental. She plays off some of the crazier characters. It’s a joy to behold. And we’re setting her up as some sort of action hero. Sonja in some ways has that in the bag.”
Ernie (Brent Jennings), who was supposed to take over the lodge, has backed away from Dud and the gang to focus on his less-than-fulfilling plumbing supplies job. But don’t worry: he will inevitably get drawn back in by Dud.
Gavin likens some of the relationships on the show in mythological terms. “Ernie is the knight and Dud is the squire. The squire was bit by a dragon and survives. Dud sees that as a gift. He wants to work with the knight again but is stunned to find his knight has gotten off his horse looking for a quiet life. So the squire has to carry the ball and finds a way to get the knight back on the horse.”
Jennings, wearing a mariachi outfit at the Fox, said his character Ernie stands out because he is the “every man kind of character who normally doesn’t get the same attention as the hero. He reflects the pain in life as much as the joy in life.”
The show is both a rumination of the nation’s massive wealth imbalance and the ever-lasting human need for family and connection through the eyes of a quirky fictional “Lynx” fraternal order. (Fraternal orders of any sort are rarely acknowledged on TV or anywhere for that matters nowadays.)
The lodge is in financial trouble thanks to the now deceased Larry Loomis but Gavin sees him more as a “good-heart scoundrel” than a bad guy. “We do another flashback to really give Larry some context on who he is and what made him,” Gavin said. “It’s a really wonderful episode.”
The fact Oscar-nominated Paul Giamatti was an executive producer helped get the show off the ground. And in between shooting scenes for his hit Showtime show “Billions,” he found time to fly into Atlanta and take part in a couple of episodes season two as a key character.
“He’s wonderful,” Ocko said. “I imagine Showtime doesn’t want us to mention him too much because he’s so well known on ‘Billions.’ We’re very proud of the fact he’s playing the opposite of that character for us.”
Giamatti, during a brief interview between shoots at the Fox Theatre in April, said he was drawn to “Lodge 49” through his production company. “It’s all very literary, very much like a novel,” he said, citing his reaction after reading the first script. “It didn’t feel episodic. I wasn’t being told a whole lot. It was just happening.”
While the show does center around some mysteries regarding the lodge, that aspect never overshadows the day-to-day issues the characters face.
Ocko said unlike “Lost,” their show “takes place in a very ordinary world. The mystery is hiding in plain sight along the edges. We have created characters who are very relatable, people you want to hang out with. This show opens the door into something truly strange. It is going somewhere. It’s fun to do.”
Giamatti thinks the show has a broader appeal than meets the eye. “It’s got this great baseline of great characters, he said. “Then there’s the nerd appeal. There are these scrolls and the lodge. There’s all this paraphernalia around.”
Russell, who is Kurt’s son, also sees the appeal as cross generational: “I’d be in Trader Joe’s and I’d see the elderly, young adults, they say they watch it together.”
And though Atlanta is hardly the idyllic place to shoot a show that is fictionally based in Long Beach, Calif., the two executive producers made it work. (Ten days of the show were also shot on location in Long Beach because Atlanta’s beach options are nonexistent.)
“We’ve come to love Atlanta,” Ocko said. “We’re a little better about seeking locations that don’t have forests in the background that visual effects have to remove later.” The only issue was the fact they shot season two during the Atlanta winter and Long Beach never gets that cold. “Wyatt would be shivering in his T-shirt and shorts while we put a palm tree in the background,” he said.
The show also features some great character actors including Brian Doyle Murray as Ernie’s annoyingly chipper boss and Joe Grifasi as the strip mall’s pawnshop owner forever taking advantage of Dud and his idiotic financial schemes. Dud keeps going back there, Gavin said, “because the strip mall is a family. Every family has the old crank. In some way, he feels more comfortable with Bert than anybody more legitimate.”
And there’s a fun actor who shows up episode 3 who may have gone “Up in Smoke” many years ago.
“Lodge 49” season 2 returns at 10 p.m. Monday, August 12, 2019 on AMC
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