A fascinating limited television series launched at the beginning of March 2020 titled Dispatches From Elsewhere. It consisted of ten episodes and aired on AMC weekly on Mondays until the end of April.
The show was produced by Jason Segel and featured four primary characters who all lead lives of various levels of mundaneness, fears, challenges, distractions and lack of direction. Sounds a bit like most of the population, doesn’t it? These individuals – Peter, Simone, Janice and Fredwynn – come from totally different backgrounds and experiences, but growing up in the current modern world find themselves feeling like something significant is missing in their lives.
Each episode is named after a feature character and starts out with Peter (Segel) leading the most mundane life imaginable. Eat-sleep-work, eat-sleep-work, ad infinitum – – never seeking anything beyond his safe comfort zone of endlessly repetitive and numbing daily routines. He barely deviates from his menu of food and television selections.
“This is existing, not living.” – Octavio Coleman, Esq.
At some point, Peter notices strange fliers taped to poles along the sidewalk as he walks to work. Each have unusual announcements with pull tabs containing a phone number to call for those interested in partaking. Flier subjects include such odd things as: “Dolphin Communication Systems Testing“, “Human Forcefield Experiment“, “Memory To Media.” He imagines himself possibly partaking in such experiments. Finally, he pulls a tab and makes a call. His mundane life changes at that moment.
“For those Dark Horses with the Spirit to look up and see . . . . A recondite family awaits.” – Octavio Coleman, Esq.
He visits the Philadelphia Induction Center of an entity called The JeJune Institute and undergoes an orientation session. He watches a very emotional and compelling interactive video featuring a mysterious and convincing character, Octavio Coleman Esquire, who challenges him and tells him he’s meant for something more than his drab life – – he belongs with the “special ones.” Peter is emotionally moved and is ready to fill out the induction card and pursue changing his life. But wait . . . he notices warnings written by hand in red ink on other induction cards in the drawer, telling him this is not what it seems and to ESCAPE!
And so he does, meeting other people who all did the same as he – – pulled flier tabs, made a phone call, attended an orientation session and escaped with the assistance of an equally mysterious group known as The Elsewhere Society.
They (and we the audience) are exposed to unique concepts such as Divine Nonchalance, Elsewhere, and The Idea. There is a continued sense of drama, trepidation and discovery for the participants. They can’t
resist the excitement, happiness and routine-breaking experiences it’s bringing to their lives. They’re hooked!
The Magical Elements
There are several things about the show that intrigued me and pulled me in.
I love the visual richness:
- The art deco-ish headquarters of the Jejune Institute
- The esoteric looking decorations and devices in both Jejune’s headquarters and the Elsewhere Society headquarters (the pedal-powered flip video device particularly!)
- The various murals, parks, buildings and art installations around the city
- The numerous interior sets for places they go
- The wonderful graphics on the game pieces (envelopes, cards, puzzle elements, and the show’s logos) – – all very esoteric looking
- The vintage-looking animations used throughout
- The cool alternative video (such as the talking painting in the museum)
I love the continued references to things that equate to personal-growth and the human-potential arena:
- Self-discovery & awakening
- Rising above the mundane
- Finding beauty, magic and joy in places and things you never bothered noticing before
- The philosophical concept of ourselves being the only obstacle to our happiness and joy – – simply needing to pick up the keys to our prison laying at our feet and opening the doors to a whole new world and perspective
“The Power is Within You” – Commander 14, The Elsewhere Society
“I felt like I felt a few times when I went to the movie theater and saw a beautiful film. How, when it ended and I went outside, colors seemed brighter. The world seemed a better place. I wanted to keep feeling that way. I guess for the first time in my life I was walking around looking at the world through a new pair of glasses.” “I felt like there was magic.” – Peter
I love how the game provides varying experiences for participants and influences them in different ways:
- Creating different viewpoints as to the identity of the “bad guys” and “good guys”
- Providing different clues and results for other teams, and in some instances to the individual members of the primary team we’re focused upon. It leads them to different experiences and interpretations
- Could this be a social experiment?
I love how individuals open up and interact with people they would normally never even speak to otherwise.
- Although I’m not much of a social individual nor value that aspect of life as I should, it shows how face-to-face social interactions with others can enrich our lives.
I love the inspiration and excitement the adventures and challenges provide to its participants (and us the viewing audience).
“Follow your Divine Nonchalance” – Commander 14, The Elsewhere Society
“There’s magic everywhere, once you learn how to see it.” – Clara
“The Elsewhere Society is a disorganized collective of currently human souls dedicated to the preservation and reverse obfuscation of the beauty entitled to us by the very nature of our membership in the divine wonders of existence.” – Commander 14
“Try something. Make something. It’s okay to be wrong. It’s okay to be wrong.” – Clara
“Do something. Prove something. Imagine. Dream.” – Clara
“I just thought that maybe I could show people that there was beauty out there, if they just knew where to look.” – Peter
“We’re trying to instill a sense of wonder.” – Lee
“Getting up, getting out, seeing the world around us in a whole new way. We need to engage the world, not retreat from it.” – Clara
The Real-Life Game of Jejune & Elsewhere
The inspiration for this show’s concept was a real game conducted in San Francisco between 2008 and 2011. It too featured the Jejune Institute and Elsewhere Society.
Created by Jeff Hull, it very nearly parallels the type of thing the AMC series portrays, and is in fact the basis for this show produced by Jason Segel. It resulted in a documentary called The Institute created by Spencer McCall. You can watch it on Amazon and probably other sites. It’s very interesting listening to some of the ex-players describe their experiences and how VERY SERIOUSLY some people took it, as well as the confusion and anxiety some users had as to what it was all about.
Some significant quotes from the creator, Jeff Hull, and his reasons for creating such an adventure . . .
“Experiences are the only thing of value at the end of the day.”
“I like to offer intrigue and mystique to people’s lives. Life does not have to be mundane. On the surface level it’s very much about play and fun and adventure. Beneath that layer, though, I am trying to challenge people, and ask them to take small meaningful risks in their lives. I’m a situational Designer. I produce immersive narrative adventures that take place in the real world. It is game-like in that life is game-like. Just please don’t call it an ARG (alternate reality game).”
“Our mission is to provide discovery through visceral experience and pervasive play.”
Postscript . . . .
There’s more I could write regarding the reasons Jason Segel produced this show and the significance of the last episode, but I don’t want to share any spoilers.
Give the show a try if you’re in the mood for a bit of adventure and fun!
Carpe diem my friends!
(Featured photo of a street mural by the author: James L. Patterson)