In a sea of Puzzle Box Television, Jim Gavin’s chilled-out, languid respite Lodge 49 offers something different. There is a mystery, about the potential existence of magical scrolls that belong to the fraternal order’s True Lodge (ones that may hold alchemical keys), and while it does drive some of the narrative, it’s all so esoteric and blissed-out that whether or not they exist is never the point. Back on Earth, Dud (Wyatt Russell), his sister Liz (Sonya Cassidy), and his lodge friend Ernie (Brent Jennings)—really everyone at the lodge—are just trying to figure their own lives out.
Amid its mystical search for meaning, AMC’s Lodge 49 stumbles upon some very grounded truths. These Long Beach denizens are almost always looking for security, both financial and relational. Sometimes it’s part of the plot, like Liz taking temp agency jobs to pay the bills and Scott (Eric Allan Kramer) trying to make the Lynxes pay their bar tabs to the lodge. Other times it’s background, like Dud casually dropping how the hospital is really coming after him for his post shark-bite bills, or Ernie not being able to get his car started. There’s always an earnestly absurd streak to the series though, like when Dud goes door to door asking folks if they’ll let him clean their pools for free (to undercut a new player in town, who protests “no one can compete with free!” Dud replies, “laws of the jungle.”) He means to charge for it, initially, but after spending time out by the water under the heat of the California sun, he daydreams about his deceased parents and decides cleaning pools is a privilege and a delight he doesn’t want compensation for.
Such is the quirky delight of this sleepy, meandering series which finds its leads all on their own quests (some far-flung) to start the new season. Dud and Blaise (David Pasquesi) want to save the lodge, and so does Scott, just in very different ways. Ernie is in a post-Mexico funk, and Connie (Linda Emond) is at the True Lodge receiving some unconventional healing. Liz is realizing she’s older now than her mother ever got to be, and thus is in an existential crisis about not having done anything with her life. The agency she signs up with, TempJoy, is (like so many things in the series) both a literal statement and a question: will this bring you true joy, or is it just a passing whim? Ernie’s boss challenges him to take on a new mantra, “life is GOOD!” Even if you don’t feel it, he counsels, say it, and embrace it. But does it work?
As such, Lodge 49 is still primarily a show about discovery: of the self, of history, of arcane knowledge. Everyone is haunted by friendly ghosts from their pasts, often in ways that make these spirit guides feel very real and tangible. They are meant, like the Knights of the Lynx Lodge, to both fought against and learned from. The show is an unhurried meditation—but that can, in a crowded TV landscape, be something of an irritation (or an invitation to start idly scrolling on your phone). Still, there is something quiet and nice about a show that is, well, quiet and nice.
When I reviewed the first season, I gave a middling grade and wasn’t sure if I would keep watching. But it continued to grow on me; the strangeness of the show, the casual and conversational nature of its plotting, and its likable cast (who, it should be noted, are mostly 50+—not something you often see in a show that isn’t, specifically, about age) really drew me into its world. There is something very different and unique about this story, though it can feel a little sluggish at times or a little too disparate in the tone and narratives it’s telling.
When Liz tells her placement counsellor at TempJoy that she feels like her life isn’t heading anywhere, nothing has been accomplished, and she has no idea what she wants or where she’s going, he replies, “from what I’ve seen, your feelings are in line with the larger work force.” That’s part of the show’s sly, winking tone that never feels at odds with its sincerity. In both cases it’s heartfelt and real. “LIFE IS GOOD!” Now get off your laurels and live it. Right after a dreamy afternoon at the beach, maybe.
Lodge 49 Season Two premieres Monday, August 12th on AMC.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV