"Gentleman" and "Squirm" – Two Sentence Horror Stories S01E01-E02 Review

A two-sentence review seems appropriate for Two Sentence Horror Stories. So here we go.

It sucks.
It blows.

I was harsh in my review of the 2019 Twilight Zone a few months back. And with good reason. But whatever you could say about it, at least it had something decent to work off of. And it had talented actors, writers, and directors. So far, Two Sentence Horror Stories lacks either of those qualities.

Tara Pacheco, Two Sentence Horror Stories S01E02It's not that the actors and creative team are bad. To damn with faint praise, they're... professional. But the first two stories are both predictable and pedestrian. Maybe there's some kind of "social commentary" going on. Both of them feature women who are terrorized and get revenge on the men responsible. I'm not sure portraying a woman as being homicidal to show her as a "strong woman" is the way to go. I know having women strike back to get revenge is a relatively popular sub-genre. But I'm no more impressed with them then I am with "men getting revenge" films and TV, either.

Two Sentence does eschew The Twilight Zone so far by focusing on non-supernatural horror. While TZ featured the outré and didn't dwell particularly on horror. Two Sentence reminds me more of Night Visions from 2001. Except Two Sentence lacks any narrative voice. Granted, Henry Rollins was an odd choice for a host: Rod Serling, he wasn't. But at least he provided an opening and closing to the 30-minute tales of terror. I'm not sure anything could save Two Sentence, but having a narrative voice to open the drama and close it would help.

And next week apparently features a ghost, so we'll get some kind of supernatural element.

Nicole King, Two Sentence Horror Stories S01E01

But why is Two Sentence so mediocre? Let's take a look. The first episode, "Gentleman" is the worst of the two. For one thing, the "twist" is so broadly telegraphed they could have used it to send transcontinental messages back in the 19th century. We see a woman, Hana (Nicole Kang), holding a baby that cries a lot. We never get a look at its face, and it doesn't move at all.

Then we hear Hana telling her baby, Iris, she went on a date with a guy, Ken (Jim Parrack). Hana makes a lousy first impression, but then some woman comes up with her baby. Ken coochy-coos it, and Hana looks on. The two start dating, and we find out during all of this Hana does 3D modelling of houses for clients.

But first, Ken dates the woman with the baby. He then says she's a bad mother and strangles her. Then he dates Hana, and it's clear he's going to eventually kill Hana the same way. There are indication he's stalking her, and eventually he signs up as a client at her architecture firm to bug her even more.

Nicole King, Two Sentence Horror Stories S01E01

Eventually, Ken breaks into Hana's apartment and gets into her bed with her while she's sleeping. She wakes up and they fight, and Ken goes into the nursery after punching Hana unconscious. Ken discovers "Iris" is a 3D modeled doll. Hana wakes up, comes in, and stabs him in the back with a pair of scissors, and then starts repairing the doll. When Ken tries to crawl away, Hana pushes the scissors into his back so he dies. The last we see of her, she's working on a 3D model of a husband so she and iris can have her family.

The idea of a normal-acting person who is actually a creepy weirdo isn't a new one. If nothing else, they did something similar in the Masters of Horror episode "Family". But a big problem is, we know from the beginning Hana isn't quite right. Which means there's nowhere for the episode to go. We figure out early on Hana is nuts and Ken is a serial killer. Granted, it's a 30-minute episode so they have to rush things, but once those two pieces are in place we know how the episode is going to end. Ken is going to try to kill Hana and discover he's in over his head.

Another is "Family" had George Wendt in it. No offense to Nicole King and Jim Parrack, but they're not exactly dynamic screen presences. Wendt in "Family" has some screen presence, as did his co-stars. "Family" also made Wendt's homicidal neighbor sympathetic and multi-dimensional. The episode isn't much longer than "Gentleman", so why couldn't writer C.S. McMullen make Hana and/or Jim half as interesting?

The second episode, "Squirm", is a little better. It's not quite as predictable, but writer Vera Miao (who is also the show's creator and executive producer, and directed the episode) seems to be swinging for the fences and crams a lot into the episode. There are lots of analogies, and not-so-disguised non-analogies, for rape and female empowerment, and men are jerks. We're not given any reason to like the female lead, Keisha (Tara Pacheco). Instead Ms. Miao puts Keisha in an untenable situation and tells the actress to do "freak out".

Tara Pacheco, Two Sentence Horror Stories S01E02

What is the untenable situation? After a night of drinking and dancing at an office party, office drone Keisha wakes up in bed with "Morning Sleepy" written on her stomach. There's also an unsigned note saying the person who brought her there left something inside her, and invites her to find it.

Keisha freaks out and starts searching around her apartment. I'm not sure why. She has herself checked for rape but comes up clean. Keisha continues to freak out, and her assaulter leaves a photo of himself inserting a finger into her mouth while she's asleep. Our protagonist starts hallucinating worms coming out of her face, and she tells a woman's counselor she feels she's losing control of herself and her body.

At work, Keisha has similar freak-outs. Everyone stops eating and stares at her in the lunch room, although I'm not sure why. One co-worker offers to be there for Keisha if she needs someone to talk to, and the woman behind said co-worker has a bandage on her neck. Keisha's co-worker Sanjay tells her she's got a new job and puts a hand on her arm, and she scratches his face.

Eventually, Keisha gets called in to see her boss, Doug (Christopher Shyer). He tells her he's considered letting Keisha go because of her recent erratic behavior. When Doug leaves to get Keisha a Kleenex, Keisha sees photos of herself and other women on Doug's desk and remembers the bandage on the one woman's neck. Keisha immediately jumps to the 100% correct conclusion Doug is the person who assaulted her.

Christopher Shyer, Two Sentence Horror Stories S01E02

When Doug comes back, he basically admits he assaulted her and the other women. Keisha leaves his office, and later Doug is interviewing a woman to replace Sanjay. He chokes and goes to the restroom, and we see Keisha watching him. She's got a big old bottle of tapeworm egg diet pills on her desk and read about the urban legend of people using tapeworms to diet. We're to believe Keisha dosed Doug's coffee with tapeworm eggs/diet pills. So he pulls a tapeworm out of his eye and screams in terror, and Keisha smiles in satisfaction.

The worm imagery is creepy and horrific, but it comes out of nowhere. We never see or hear anything indicating Keisha is obsessed with tapeworms, or uses diet pills, or had nightmares as a child about worms, or watched the MST3K team riff the movie "Squirm". Keisha does manage to make a couple of Sherlock Holmes-like deductions to figure out Doug is her assaulter.

The ending where Doug pulls a tapeworm out of his eyes would be much more impressive if there had been any foreshadowing of tapeworms. Instead, Miao just tosses it in during the last five minutes, as if she remembered she had to toss a twist into her anti-rape story.

So while "Gentleman" is too broad telegraphing the twist, "Squirm" isn't broad enough. Folks like Rod Serling and Charlie Brooker can do twist stories. Even the creative team on the newest TZ managed to pull them off. Why can't Vera Miao and company?

Maybe Two Sentence will improve. But I'm not paid to review future episodes while using my Time-Space Visualizer: I review the episodes that are on in front of me. And these two episodes are not very good. Hopefully the show will improve. But the fact it's premiering in August for a limited run doesn't hold out much hope. The CW is running Two Sentence at a relatively low period in TV viewing. It's hard to imagine it would get a renewal to a full season under the best of circumstances. It comes across as some kind of "Let's air it because we paid for the damn thing and we're contractually obliged to air it, but we don't have to do anything to make it successful."

But hey, sometimes a summer show like Zoo manages to catch on and go for another season or two. Maybe Two Sentence will turn out to be the little train that could, and there are millions of people out there clamoring for more episodes. And Two Sentence will turn into The CW's next big hit like Supernatural. Anything's possible. Just not likely.

But that's just my opinion, and I get paid the big bucks to write it. What do you think?

Written by Gislef on Aug 9, 2019


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