Cutting Ties, a five-part episodic from IFC about “a young man stuck in a lackluster corporate career,” is perhaps harder to sympathize with given the current economic meltdown. Of course that’s not the creator’s fault, but it is the unfortunate backdrop to a story that essentially dares the unsatisfied at work to brave the bear market.
The star of Cutting Ties is Evan (Peter Neudel), a middle-management employee at a non-descript company. Every day, Evan wakes up in a house he can’t afford, puts on a bad tie, and shares a breakfast with his wife that could not be more silent and detached if it were at an Amish prayer service. Evan commutes to a job whose business, although intentionally undefined, surely dabbles in the mass-production of cynicism.
Evan’s co-workers are all tremendous a$$holes, every one of them. They point and wink, and if you’re late for work, as Evan is in Episode 1, they sneer, and pretend to check their watch. It’s a work environment that demands things like “spreadsheets,” “answers to questions,” and I’m sure TPS reports. While Evan’s dubious best friend Stephen (Victor Martins) is a star around the workplace, Evan is just barely keeping the boss off his back.
Now if it sounds like Evan could use a Zoloft, it’s because Evan could use a Zoloft, or possibly something stronger. Surreal events begin to swirl around him, usually involving shears. When he walks to his car in the morning he finds his front tire stabbed with a pair of scissors. At work, the slides to an important presentation have been replaced in his drawer with a paper ornament and a pair of scissors.
Either Evan is hallucinating or he’s being stalked by the worst Batman villain ever.
Under the stress of too many pranks, Evant begins to crack. He accuses a rival co-worker of sabotage, but alone in the company parking lot Evan faces the real culprit. It’s himself to blame for the subtle office pranks, and the light shenanigans. His alter ego, a more casual version of Evan who isn’t afraid to wear his necktie on his forehead, goes face to face with actual Evan, offering up cryptic clues about what it is he needs to do in order to change his life for the better. It’s a Fight Club twist in a story that more closely resembles Stranger Than Fiction.
Cutting Ties is written and directed by brothers Sam Powell and Peter Neudel, who won the Road to Individuality Web Series Challenge presented by Scion and IFC’s Media Lab Studios. The series is not a perfect beast, but has a good idea of the direction in which it wants to go. Its fault is the idea is too well worn for such a tidy ending.
Certainly the theme of Cutting Ties’ – the longing to become something more than what you already are – is a tried one. It’s both Talking Heads song and Mike Judge movie, but lacking in this series is an idea of what Evan should be, other than unemployed. We understand what it is he’s running away from – his job, his home life, his father’s patronage. What’s more unclear is what he wants to run towards. Is it the sun, a better-suited career, or the cute girl he can’t quite keep up with at the train station?
In the end, Evan does cut ties, literally, but it still feels like an incomplete journey. Check it out at IFC.com.