Lodge 49 isn’t an urgent show. It’s not loud or demanding, nor does it burst onto the scene with a high-stakes plot designed to immediately suck you in. It is, mostly, the opposite: quiet, chill, endearingly low stakes, and generally free of tension. Created by writer Jim Gavin, Lodge 49 is as affable as its main character, an ex-surfer nicknamed “Dud” (played by the charming Wyatt Russell), who is meandering through life following a downward spiral.
After a trip to Nicaragua, Dud was bitten by a snake and almost died; it never healed properly and he can no longer surf. Then, his father died — “Long Beach Man Presumed Drowned,” the headline reads — the business closed, and the house was foreclosed. Throughout it all, Dud remains light-hearted — whether it’s because he’s eternally optimistic or a little dim-witted is up to you.
So, yeah, Lodge 49 (which counts Paul Giamatti as one of its producers) doesn’t seem like much of anything. It exists in a weird place, with the feel of a slightly bleak hang-out sitcom but with an hourlong runtime, and doesn’t quite fit into AMC’s line-up (especially since it follows Better Call Saul). The dramatic comedy is hard to describe — even AMC claimed it “defies easy categorization,” instead using buzzwords like “poignant” and “entertaining” — but there’s definitely something to be said for the show’s mellow tone, calming nature, and small-scale world. If nothing else, it certainly stands out amongst the dramas centered on torment and dead girls.
Like plenty of other shows this summer, Lodge 49 requires extra patience. It can be hard to stick with a character who appears to never make choices and instead only waits for things to happen. Even the basic plot, in which Dud joins a not-exactly-secret fraternal order and makes friends with the members, is by happenstance: He finds a member’s ring in the sand, is unable to pawn it, and then only ends up at the titular lodge because his car runs out of gas outside. Lodge 49 (one of many Lodges, and you’re correct if you likened it to Thomas Pynchon’s Crying Of Lot 49) feels immediately welcoming to Dud. He’s drawn to the society and eager to join.
After all, Dud is something of a lost soul (not to mention unemployed and homeless), drinking a lot (but not “the fun kind of drinking”) and frequenting his old house much to the dismay of the new tenants. He’s looking for something to cling to and a path to go guide him; he truly believes the lodge can help him. Lodge 49, as a “Luminous Knight” explains, does community service but there’s also “a philosophical element.” But mainly, he says, they just get together. At the lodge, they get drunk and have Bingo nights, but they also speak of “signs and symbols,” looking for a version of magic in everyday life. One character wonders aloud why people look for unicorns when we already have rhinos: “All this beautiful stuff right here in front of us. Screw the unicorns.” The series is quietly interested in fate but not overtly whimsical; revelations are brought on by stalled cars and drowned rats.
But through its other characters, Lodge 49 is more down-to-earth, depicting the everyday frustrations of money problems and loneliness and fumbling through awkward adulthood. Lodge member, and Dud’s new friend, Ernie Fontaine (Brent Jennings) sells plumbing supplies, yearns to connect with Connie (Linda Emond) who in turn is preoccupied with non-romantic problems, and just wants something bigger.
Even better is Liz (a great Sonya Cassidy), Dud’s rightfully-cynical twin sister. While Dud hangs out on her couch, reminiscing about how their father was the best person he ever met, Liz works at the Hooters-like restaurant Shamroxx, struggling to pay off the debt that their father saddled her with when she co-signed a loan. She’s the aggressive to Dud’s passive. The two love each other but are frequently at odds — largely due to her frustration with his inertness but also his unwillingness to know the truth about their late father, since they even disagree on the nature of his death. Liz is the most interesting character, even when her life is so stagnant that she literally dreams about mundane days at work.
Lodge 49 is often a victim of its own randomness and pacing; I predict many people will get annoyed by how slow-moving it is, or how things just don’t appear to be connecting. Unfortunately, it takes until about halfway through for things to feel more cohesive, and the mysteries surrounding the specifics of the secret society become legitimately engaging once they dip into the mythology. But there’s definitely something to be said for the show’s mellow tone, calming nature, and small-scale world. Once you begin watching it, you’ll fall into the easy rhythms and the laid-back nature, surprised by how pleasant it is to just sit and watch.