As shiftless layabouts go, Wyatt Russell’s Sean ‘Dud’ Dudley, of AMC’s charming, funny, and delightfully odd new series, Lodge 49, ranks pretty high. He’s somewhere between The Dude and Jeff Spicoli, but with a air of tragedy to help account for his idle ways. Dud’s been unmoored by the death of his father a year prior, which set in motion the loss of his father’s pool cleaning business and their family home. All of which finds Dud living down to his moniker. Jobless, homeless, and in debt to both his sister Liz (Sonya Cassidy) and an unscrupulous pawnbroker, Dud’s prospects are grim. That is until he stumbles upon a ring belonging to a member of the Lynx lodge, Lodge 49. When fate finds him literally and figuratively out of gas in front of the very same lodge, Dud finds himself on the cusp of something potentially amazing.
Billed as a modern fable, Lodge 49 hails from creator Jim Gavin and is executive produced by Paul Giamatti. The series takes a distinct pleasure in the intersection of the ordinary and the extraordinary, without leaning too heavily on either. Though it revolves primarily around Russell’s Dud, the series is ostensibly an ensemble, with Brent Jennings as the lodge’s leader-in-waiting, Ernie Fontaine, and others, like lodge apothecary Blaise St. John (David Pasquesi), and Linda Edmond as Connie, a lodge member and journalist who also happens to be carrying on an affair with Ernie. There are others, too, like Larry (Kenneth Welsh), the current head of the Ancient and Benevolent Order of the Lynx, whose frequent brushes with death put a strain on Ernie’s presumed ascension, especially after Larry hints all is not right with the lodge.
It takes a while to get to that point, though, as Lodge 49 is about as low key as its protagonist. But while being in no hurry to get somewhere is a detriment to most other series, it winds up being one of this show’s best attributes. Because the series exists in a liminal space between middle-class idyll and the strange goings-on of fraternal organizations — calling to mind the Freemasons or the Skull and Bones society — it serves each side best by luxuriating in the seemingly banal details of both. Dud’s everyday life consists of tooling around in a “classic” yellow convertible, stalking the new owners of his father’s recently foreclosed home, and just hanging out in and around Long Beach, not surfing on account of an unhealed snakebite he got while on vacation in Nicaragua.
That aimlessness is reflected in interesting ways by members of the lodge and the lodge itself. At first glance, the fraternal organization seems to exist primarily as a reason to drink with friends. But, as Dud soon discovers, membership brings purpose and order into his life. And, as things slowly get weirder as the season progresses, Dud and his fraternal brethren begin to find new meaning in their lives.
To say that Lodge 49 is something of a slow burn would be an understatement. But it’s also not entirely fair to what the series is trying to accomplish. The narrative doesn’t necessarily have a destination in mind, and is instead all about the journey. That journey delights in being odd, both from a storytelling standpoint and from the perspective of the characters themselves. But while the idea of drifting along semi-aimlessly may seem like a recipe for disaster, Lodge 49 quickly proves the opposite, delivering one memorable scene after another, all of which go off in unexpected directions. Case in point: Dud breaks into his old, vacant apartment to read a book and drink whiskey from a giant mug. His leisure time is interrupted by the landlord, who's showing the place to a young couple. The series abstains from hitting some potentially rote comedic notes by introducing Beth, an ostensibly throwaway character who excels in making the situation uncomfortable for Dud for reasons pertaining to their shared sexual history, rather than the aspect of his trespassing on account of having nowhere else to go.
Moments like those help give Lodge 49 a strong sense of place, specifically that of a fictionalized Long Beach, California, where a dwindling middle class is finding it harder and harder to exist, much less feel as though they have a seat at any sort of table. It’s not an entirely hardscrabble existence, but it’s not as easy as it once was. The sentiment is as true for guys like Ernie as it is for Dud or even Liz, and it lends the series enough of a through-line to help identify the various narrative threads and how they're meant to be tied together.
But the pleasure in Lodge 49 is in they way it thrills at being an odd little show that, like its charming protagonist, marches to the unconventional beat of its own drummer. Viewers’ mileage will certainly vary with regard to its deliberate pace, however. Like other summer series such as HBO’s Sharp Objects or Hulu’s Castle Rock, Lodge 49 may be best suited to being a binge-watch. Something AMC seems aware of, as subscribers of the network’s streaming service will have access to the full season on the day the show premieres. For everyone else, though, it’s worth it not only to stick with the series until the end, but also to enjoy the slow, simple pleasures of the show’s idiosyncratic sensibilities.
Lodge 49 continues next Monday with ‘Moments of Truth in Service’ @10pm on AMC.