Netflix’s The Watcher Taps Art World’s Class-Anxious Caricatures –

In 2018, a story by Reeves Wiedeman for new York magazine detailed the haunting account of a couple who, after buying a valuable house in a New Jersey suburb, became the target of an anonymous stalker. Taunting Derek and Maria Broaddus through anonymous letters signed “The Watcher”, the author delivered ominous references to their three children and details of their domestic lives gleaned on treks home.

A fictional version of the saga is played out in a new Netflix limited series produced by Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan. It follows the descent of a married couple, Dean and Nora Brannock (Bobby Cannavale and Naomi Watts), as they clean out their savings to buy a historic mansion outside of New York City. The Brannocks can’t sell it to avoid anonymous threats. Further threatening the couple’s refined lifestyle throughout the series is an increasingly dire financial situation.

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The Andy Warhol Diaries.  Cr.  Andy Warhol;  Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

The series offers a cautionary tale about the excesses of the upper middle class and contains subtexts about a milieu of contemporary afflictions: financial security, market uncertainties, class wars, intergenerational struggles and paranoia.

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Further fueling Murphy and Brennan’s riffs on the class tensions plaguing metropolitan elites: the producers craft a subplot that exploits the caricatures of the art world that kick off some of the show’s most popular moments.

Delivering most of the series’ memorable lines is a real estate agent and art school graduate named Karen, played by Jennifer Coolidge (the actress has recently gained a cult following for her portrayals of cheap anti-heroines). As the listing agent for the sprawling property, Karen meets Nora at the open house, recognizing each other from their days at RISD. Nora jokes about her first major show at a new Tribeca gallery for which she was featured in Times.

Throughout the series’ seven episodes, Coolidge offers ironic reminders of the anxieties that have classically plagued the types of art that gather in urban centers. “I never imagined you’d end up in the suburbs,” she tells Nora, a ceramic artist on the verge of a mid-career breakout. “You were so crispy.”

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In the show’s first episode, the two women congratulate each other on becoming rich while coyly lamenting having abandoned their early-career fantasies of living as grungy artists. “You do,” Karen tells Nora. “Not me. I’m like, damn painting, I’ll marry rich. It’s easier that way.” Those remarks play on a lingering image of a embattled MFA industry, troubled by a reputation for enrolling unqualified graduates and enfranchising the creative class.

Increasingly in popular culture, writers have begun to embrace depictions of art world commercial types as suitable specters for plots that highlight dystopian themes. Characters played by Cate Blanchet and Jake Gyllenhal in projects such as Manifesto (2015) and Velvet Buzzsaw (2019) they accessed the causal elitism of the gatekeepers of the art world. The former morphed into a non-art-based persona in Julian Rosefeldt’s multi-screen video installation, which analyzed the canon of art history; the latter played a conflicted critic who succumbs to a criminal force while selling haunted works by a deceased artist. (Murphy’s most recent art-focused foray was into production Andy Warhol’s Diaries.)

Other economic forces specific to the art world come into play in later episodes. As the reality of Brannock’s financial situation grows more dire, Nora’s career in New York’s top gallery scene thrives. She sold an exhibition of pots, received invitations to Art Basel in Miami and Geneva (the latter does not actually exist), with her dealer inviting her for another solo exhibition the following month.

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It’s a scenario reminiscent of the average pandemic climate of the art world. Embracing decorative elements, the commercial art market is constantly booming for no apparent reason even in the face of economic hardship. Nora finds herself in the unlikely position of being able to support the high lifestyle of a family of four through pottery sales alone.

Winslows from “The Watcher”. Courtesy of Netflix.

Murphy and his cohort are making aggressive gestures toward the pandemic-era zeitgeist. That security, both financial and material, promised by escapes to suburban paradises, is a thing of the country’s past. The show puts a humorous spin on those burdens — it refuses to deliver them very seriously.

Re-enter Coolidge to echo art world clichés. “You’re probably thinking, Oh, you should live in squalor because you’re an artist,” her characters remarks during a country club lunch to Nora. “This is the life I want, everything. You shouldn’t feel guilty.”

The Brannocks sometimes appear as caricatures of the American creative class imagined by political commentator David Brooks a consumer class has flocked to urban areas whose bohemian values ​​are largely performative. Finding herself at a solo exhibition, Nora is relieved of earlier concerns that if she ever left New York, her career would “go with her”.

Although it appears as a theme in several cases from the beginning of the series, the specter of class tensions comes to dominate other scenes as the Brannocks meet a cohort of strange neighbors. Local preservationist Pearl Winslow (played by horror darling Mia Farrow) and her disabled brother Jasper often appear at random to offer warnings about protecting the house’s historic status.

Throughout various scenes, the Winslow duo seem to step out of Grant Wood’s widely parodied 1930 painting. American Gothic. The comparisons are obviously not subtle: Farrow’s character sports a striking center part, a menacing gaze and a portrait pendant around his neck, while Jasper wears overalls reminiscent of a Depression-era farmer and is featured in several cameos carrying a rake as the pair face each other. neighbors (Wood’s character holds a three-pronged fork).

Seen largely as a satirical take on midwesterners out of touch with a modernizing country and an ode to rural values, the work is a fitting reference. Throughout the series, the Winslows serve as types frozen in the past, positioned as the vanguard of local culture. They’re up against their urban expat neighbors, whom Pearl describes as “a horrible yuppie couple,” ready to gut the residential antiquity with custom updates. “I see that’s what you think about American history,” Pearl remarked. “Total disregard.”


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