[This post originally appeared as part of Recommendation Machine, IndieWire’s daily TV picks feature.]
Where to Watch ‘Brand New Cherry Flavor’: Netflix
After a holiday weekend when plenty of TV viewers either wrapped up or began their “Yellowjackets” Season 1 watches (possibly both!), there’s the inevitable search for something to fit those same vibes. While nothing’s going to be an exact one-to-one, there’s a show from last summer that should slide nicely into that ‘90s headtrip void for anyone who hasn’t already taken the plunge.
“Brand New Cherry Flavor” begins through the eyes of Lisa Nova (Rosa Salazar), who arrives in Hollywood in the early part of that decade. She doesn’t crash land, but with little more than a buzzy short film and some ambition to her name, she’s all but stranded in a strange new world. Before too long, she manufactures a meeting with producer Lou Burke (Eric Lange, playing the perfect entertainment signal-caller combo of beneficence and sleaze) for what she assumes at first is the start of her fledgling directorial career.
What could easily play out as a self-contained story about the life of a Hollywood newcomer instead taps into something much weirder and more expansive. By the time the enigmatic Boro (Catherine Keener) arrives at a fancy house party, clad in a full winter coat and cradling a cat in her arms, it’s clear that “Brand New Cherry Flavor” is headed in some different directions.
Like the odd whispers in the forest starting to take hold of the surviving members of the soccer team in the other show, Lisa’s blend of determination, revenge-seeking, and confidence in her artistic ability means that she questions less and less as things get stranger and stranger. Even as the story starts to veer from a recognizable form of sunny exterior Los Angeles, it’s all presented with a certain kind of inevitability. Of course plants are going to crop up in unexpected places. Of course anonymous motorcycle riders are going to trail around the city.
While there’s not as much parallel time-hopping here, Lisa is also dogged by events from her past that she can’t shake. As those consequences start to pile up, they get more visceral and start to leave their own trail of destruction. This isn’t a show that goes for a bunch of cheap “Is this actually happening or only inside her head” fakeouts. Yet what really puts Salazar’s performance over the top is how she’s able to show Lisa making that exact calculus for herself at every new turn. Figuring out reality becomes less of a guiding force than figuring out if it’s worth going through a series of physical and mental trials for an unclear outcome.
The whole metaphysical saga plays out, backed by a series of needle drops that aren’t just ‘90s signifiers because they got a lot of radio play at the time. “Brand New Cherry Flavor” is injected with the spirit of the decade without having a parade of pop culture signifiers shouting out milestones for each successive month. Maybe because, past a certain point, it’s untethered from having to follow specific real-world logical guidelines, the show more easily drifts into a hazy atmosphere that teeters on the edge between high-contrast dream and ominous nightmare.
“Brand New Cherry Flavor” is nasty and vicious in all the ways it intends to be. Crafted in part by writers and director alums from “Channel Zero,” including co-showrunners Lenore Zion and Nick Antosca (some spoiler-filled perspective from them here), it’s the kind of show that sets out to leave you in a daze and succeeds in ways you don’t expect. Whether you’re looking for off-kilter or gut-churning or some other straightforward way to describe TV designed to unsettle, “Brand New Cherry Flavor” is ready to provide.
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