Weird City is the type of show that’s quick to explain what the whole deal is with its universe before the fun begins, because there is a lot going on within this universe. This new YouTube Premium series — a sci-fi comedy anthology series, at that — takes place in a “not-so-distant future” in a city called Weird, where the “haves” live Above the Line and the “have-nots” live Below the Line. And there’s a literal line right down the middle to keep the separation legit, as well as to highlight just how ridiculous this whole situation is in the first place.
Created and executive produced by Jordan Peele and former Key & Peele writer Charlie Sanders, Weird City tells a different wacky story in every episode (of which there are six in this first season), with a new guest cast each time, including Michael Cera, Laverne Cox, Rosario Dawson, and Steven Yeun, just to name a few, while LeVar Burton plays Dr. Negari, the mad scientist responsible for a fair share (if not all) of Weird City’s technical nightmares.
Additionally, each episode of Weird City highlights the marked differences between the Above the Line lifestyle and the Below the Line lifestyle. The series premiere and season finale, specifically, are all about the former, and the show comes in and goes out hot.
The pilot, “The One,” stars Dylan O’Brien as Stu and Ed O’Neill as Burt, and in what is perhaps one of the boldest choices to start an anthology series — in a much different way from Black Mirror’s “National Anthem” — it tells a genuinely touching love story between these two men, as they’re matched by a service as each other’s “the one.” While the episode follows the pretty step-by-step beats of a romcom — complete with meeting the parents, meeting the kids, and this world’s equivalent of running to the airport at the last minute — it also finds a way to make that funny while also earnestly telling this love story that shouldn’t work. Not because of the age difference, but because it’s a love story starring Ed O’Neill. But both actors commit, as does the show. That tells you the tone of the show, and that tells you there’s something about this that just works, against all odds.
The finale, however, goes in the opposite direction in terms of latching onto the humanity of the situation in this futuristic world, as it becomes a meta Twilight Zone-meets-Amazing Stories episode about Yvette Nicole Brown and Awkwafina as themselves (sort of) in an Above the Line procedural (about criminals who love doing crime) called Below: Glail & Charlotta. (Yvette is Glail, Awkwafina is Charlotta.) It’s the complete inverse of the pilot, with co-creator Charlie Sanders even involved in the whole show-within-a-show narrative. The episode is honestly a trip, truly reflecting Peele and Sanders’ inspirations for the series.
I feel weird calling this series (or anything past the early 2010s) “quirky,” but it’s the first word that came mind when thinking about Weird City, even before “weird.” It’s a series about a futuristic world that is fueled by eccentricities, from the line separation of the upper class and the lower class in the first place, to the Above the Line apps that are as blunt as they are dumb (like “Meet Me Sex Me,” “Get-Buff-Quick,” “Where-See-Movie-At”), to the rules that govern this society. The quirk also helps the series stand out from YouTube Premium’s offerings, as well as a lot of other contemporary anthology series offerings. Despite a solid number of excellent comedy programming, including Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes On Television* and Do You Want To See A Dead Body? (of which Sanders actually wrote two episodes), YouTube Premium has yet to have a big hit in this realm outside of Cobra Kai. The question then becomes if it’s even possible for the niche streaming service (which is strange to say, because it’s YouTube) to have a breakout hit for an original series not based off something with heavy nostalgia attached to it. Weird City has name recognition in Jordan Peele and the guest cast, but it’s probably not the type of show that’s going to change the YouTube niche. But it also doesn’t need to in order to be enjoyable, and it clearly isn’t looking to do so in the first place.
As for the type of show Weird City is and the void it fills, the episodic anthology series is a genre that has seemed to ignore comedy like this. Which is exactly what makes Weird City stand out. Six half-hour episodes is a solid jumping off point for a series, especially in a time when season and episode-length can be a real problem. But Weird City is so fully-formed from the jump that it’s slightly disappointing you’ll be able to knock out the whole thing in just three hours.
The first season of ‘Weird City’ drops Wednesday, February 13th, on YouTube Premium.