‘Asylum’ Opens Its Head Case Hospital, Will It Break Out?

By 12/10/2010
‘Asylum’ Opens Its Head Case Hospital, Will It Break Out?

Asylum The pyschological drama genre remains a font for indie filmmakers looking to explore deep character arcs without the expectations of some of the pricier genres. Asylum premiered last night in Hollywood at Cinespace, a venue fast becoming the city’s CBGB’s of web series, to a capacity crowd of supporters. Not a bad foot to start a show off on. The big question however is will this indie have the muster to break through to mainstream viewers?

A week ago I opined that this might be this year’s Compulsions, with its similar genre, release timing and early indie buzz. Now having watched the full six-episode opening season of Asylum, the comp still holds water, meaning we might see a nom or two come awards season here.

At the onset, we are taken inside St. Dympna Hospital for the Criminally Insane, a tired, state-funded outfit badly overlooked by any sort of authority. It’s a last resort dumping ground for criminals who just plain lost touch with reality. We find ourselves arriving just as some oversight does, in the form of Dr. Patrick Aubert (Dingani Beza) who drops in to make sense of the hospital’s deplorable track record. Naturally, there’s some head butting with acting chief Dr. Suli Urban (Sophie King) who’s hiding something.

Director Scott Brown (the Blue Movies director not the Senator) has stepped up his game with this one, proving he’s not a one-genre wonder. He brings alive the stark hospital location—the oft-used Linda Vista Hospital—with active shots, the TV-staple walk-and-talks and dolly shots galore giving Asylum a familiar feel for TV natives.

The acting all around is strong, with plenty of new faces to the web originals scene. Guest star Jerry Bornstein steals the later episodes as a 74 year-old patient Eugene Wilson who thinks he’s 15. His arc as a patient trying to reconnect with his new reality stands out as the strongest.

Creator Dan Williams has crafted up a solid groundwork of character here, and a format that could get extended beyond its seven-minute portions. It’s a clever blend of Cold Case procedural with the deeper form narrative of LOST. Six episodes may not be enough to leave us totally satiated, but that isn’t always a bad thing.

If there’s a rub here, it’s the release plan that has me puzzled. The release schedule is pretty vanilla—two episodes a week, starting today, through the end of December. Nothing wrong with that. But for a show of this quality it surprises me that they are essentially going it alone on the distribution, rather than opting to hold out for a major network partner like FEARnet, Crackle, or Hulu. Frankly, I’m not sure why this isn’t on FEARnet, which could have used Asylum as a follow-up to last year’s Streamy-winner Fear Clinic.

Some have speculated it’s the awards season itself that mandated the release within the 2010 calendar year, rather than hold for a network partner. Awards can help career wise, but there’s nothing like a major network putting its weight behind a series to reach a sizable audience. Christopher Preksta’s The Mercury Men, after all is still holding out, though apparently we won’t be waiting much longer as its deal is close to being announced.