You know when you’re sleeping next to someone and that someone wakes you up in the middle of the night and starts telling you a dream? And then you’re like, “Uggghhh…but I’m sleeping!” but he or she tells you the dream anyway? And his or her subconscious story is a little vague, far-fetched and confusing, and makes you remember how your dreams are awesome but other people’s dreams are boring?
The Icelandic web series, Circledrawers certainly isn’t boring, but it’s kinda like listening to someone else’s dream. As Sopranos‘ star Steven Schirripa describes it, “I don’t really understand it and I’m not sure if the characters in the show understand it, but it’s a really, really well done, cool show.
In season one, the world of the Circledrawers is slowly introduced. We’re invited to believe that a grim group of lowly angels – dubbed Circledrawers – are caught up in an imperfect system of God’s bureaucracy, sometimes trying to be reborn as humans. It’s an existential meditation on free will and the choices that angels and humans make.
Two main characters drive the plot: Oleg, who has been sent on a mission from an angel station in Russia to find and document the transition of an “LBB” (Late Blooming Boy). And the LBB named Lewis, who was born an angel, but somehow fell through the cracks for twenty years and has been living as a human. Oleg provides selective exposition throughout the series, but unfortunately, like a story from the subconscious, there are many unexplained references.
The high-quality cast is split between two continents: Iceland and New York. Oleg orders the Central Transmission Station – AKA Iceland – to enlist New York-based Circledrawers, Moses and Marcus to lead the mission. (At this point you might be asking what the word “circledrawers” actually means? After watching all nine episodes, I wish I could tell you. It could be an Icelandic word that was lost in translation.)
The plodding pair eventually finds and captures Lewis and persuades him to sign a contract, which requires him to complete a near impossible list of 1571 tasks in the hope of being reborn as a human. Oleg monitors the LBB mission from a station “somewhere in Iceland,” and reports on the productivity of the New York division. (Why Oleg didn’t just fly into JFK is beyond me, but it could have something to do with heaven’s complicated workplace).
As we follow the meandering path of angels trying to redeem themselves, the male Circledrawer angels demonstrate their lackluster stance on life, which makes sense, since they’re homeless and impotent. Unfortunately, their lack of motivation is evident in every scene and tends to deliberately slow down the pace of the story.
The women-governesses of the Circledrawers – including Sharon Angela of the The Sopranos – make an appearance towards the end of the season, grinding pure sex appeal into the plot. And while the females might reiterate the overall bleak outlook on life, they certainly spice things up for the screen.
The overall look and feel of the series is enthralling and worthy of a complete season download. Writer/Director, Olaf de Fleur, known for his award winning documentaries, makes incredible choices with art direction and cinematography. Unfortunately, the script’s dialogue left me yearning for clever nuances, angelic poetry and powerful prose.
The characters casually establish their innate behaviors and, reminiscent of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, the story is completely stripped down to a rudimentary form, channeling all kinds of religious interpretation. However, rather than presenting the viewers with a clear explanation of the workings of this quirky world, we are forced to speculate about how things work based on snippets of information that come from the clueless characters. If the story is not driven by action and plot, then the imagery and the language need to be especially compelling.
Circledrawers premiered on May 1st, 2009. If you can’t wait for its weekly releases, it’s available for download for a mere $2.99. And since a sequel depends on its download sales, I recommend supporting this sci-fi series in hopes that season two will enlighten us, answer some questions, and make some sense of the Circledrawers dream.