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Series / Dispatches From Elsewhere

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We all share one common wish — a secret, one rarely uttered but more universal than any hope ever hoped — that one day it will be revealed that there's been a mistake. That one day you will learn that you are meant for more. That one day someone will arrive from the mundane nothingness and say the words: "No, my friend, not you. You don't belong here. Come with me. You belong with the special ones."
Octavio Coleman, Esq.

2020 mystery anthology series, created by, produced by, largely written by, and starring Jason Segel and airing on AMC.

A group of four very different people (Segel, Sally Field, Andre Benjamin, and Eve Lindley) find themselves drawn out of their dull, mundane lives when they each discover clues leading them into a mysterious puzzle involving the bizarre Jejune Institute; its head, Octavio Coleman, Esq. (Richard E. Grant); and its nemesis, the Elsewhere Society. Elsewhere's leader urges them to search for a missing girl named Clara, who is important to the Society's work for reasons left vague, before Coleman can find her. They attempt to follow the instructions they are given and unearth the truth about the Institute, but the mystery winds deeper than they ever imagined — in fact, it's entirely up in the air as to whether they've entered an extremely elaborate Alternate Reality Game, fallen into a Government Conspiracy, or stumbled onto honest-to-God magic.

Based on The Institute, a 2013 documentary covering a real-life ARG in San Francisco that began in 2008 and ran for several years — although Segel has switched the scene to Philadelphia. The ARG's real-life director, Jeff Hull, is a consulting producer on the series.

Dispatches from Elsewhere provides examples of:

  • Arc Words: "Divine Nonchalance."
  • Abhorrent Admirer: Downplayed, but it's a little off-putting how "Elegant Squatch" hits on Simone, not least because he's almost seven feet tall and covered in hair.
    Elegant Squatch: If you're not gonna hit that, Elegant Squatch is all about the rebound.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comment:
    Simone: It's all an experiment about cooperation... Barf.
  • Big Damn Kiss: Peter and Simone in the episode "Cave Of Kelpius." Complete with a serenade and a cheering crowd.
  • Bigfoot, Sasquatch, and Yeti: Parodied with "Elegant Squatch," a Bigfoot who is part of the game, has sick dance moves, a top hat, and an art museum membership. And who is also warm for Simone's form.
  • Blah, Blah, Blah: Peter can't stop hearing every conversation he gets into at his job as "Work stuff. Work stuff. Work, work, work, work stuff."
  • Born Lucky: Commander 14's narration suggests that being in tune with the universe is the true nature of Divine Nonchalance, comparing it to a cartoon character effortlessly and obliviously avoiding a long line of potential sources of disaster.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The first episode (along with the next three) is introduced by Octavio himself, looking into the camera, addressing the audience directly, and explaining why the show is opening in this way... and implying he knows a good deal about you personally.
    Octavio: Unless this is your first experience with a limited-run episodic — which our records indicate it is not — then you're aware of the storytelling convention which dictates that the filmmakers spend an unnecessary amount of time to introduce you to our protagonist. His occupation, the particularities of his life, and most importantly, the obstacles which stand in the way of his happiness. As the first of my many gifts to you, my friends, I propose we skip this convention and get on with what you came here for: the story.
    • Turned into a Fourth Wall Psych with a scene in the same episode in which Peter, like Octavio, sits talking to the camera in front of a wall of some bright color — we find that he's just talking to his psychiatrist.
    • The fourth wall dissolves entirely in the final episode, which is a fictionalized account of how Jason Segel himself discovered the real-life Institute ARG and was inspired to create Dispatches from Elsewhere. Various acquaintances he met along the way are written into the show as the other main characters: Simone, for example, is based on a woman he supposedly met at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting who clued him in to the game.
  • Color Motif: Certain colors are very closely associated with certain personalities in the "game". Clara is strongly linked to blue, as it's the color that inspires her to seek Elsewhere; her first mural in Fishtown is a waterfall done entirely in vivid blues, and the Flash Mob game that brings our main characters together involves matching shades of blue. Octavio, meanwhile, is linked to gold and green — his suits and smoking jackets are dark green, the Jejune logo and the backdrop at the shareholders' conference are vividly gold, and the building that purports to contain their main office has a green outer facade with gold highlights.
    • Lee (the game's Architect) is always shown wearing black, fitting her shadowy role in the show's events.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Fredwynn is convinced that whatever's going on is a government-run social experiment.
  • Cooldown Hug: Peter gives Fredwynn one at the museum, when he gets upset at not retrieving a clue from his Memory Palace.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Lee seems to feel she has become one,which may be why she organized the game to redeem herself.
  • Couch Gag: The title screen changes with every episode. The logo remains the same, but the colors and textures differ — usually including a pattern relevant to the individual episode — and the musical sting changes as well.
  • Curbstomp Battle: a sadly realistic example. Simone flees from two men who throw a bottle at her, but trips in a dark alley. With nowhere to run, she turns, maces them both, and finishes off one with a solid kick to the balls in seconds. She's shown shaken by the experience rather than triumphant.
  • Dare to Be Badass: Commander 14's enthusiastic radio broadcasts are this in spades, urging the players to join the Elsewhere Society to save Clara.
  • Deconstructed Trope: Peter and Simone have a very Romantic Comedy beginning to their relationship, including a Meet Cute, literally hearing music when they see each other, and a Big Damn Kiss... which makes it that much harder when they have a real first date and realize they actually have very little in common outside of the game (not helped by Peter's extreme social awkwardness and seeming lack of interests). They end up realizing they need time apart to work on themselves before they can try a serious relationship.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life/I Just Want to Be Special: One of the main draws of the Elsewhere experience is that it offers a purpose to people, a goal for them to pursue, that draws them out of the mundane into the unusual and fantastic. Of the central cast, Peter seems to be most motivated by this (to the point that he actually breaks down in tears watching the Jejune Institute's induction video), but the others clearly feel the same draw, if less intensely.
  • Enigmatic Institute: The Jejune Institute, led by the enigmatic Octavio Coleman Esq., appears to be a very strange scientific corporation that works on bizarre inventions such as personal force fields, VR replications of people's memories, and methods of communicating with dolphins. Part of the game the show revolves around is the protagonists trying to determine if Jejune is good, evil, or potentially a front for a data mining scam.
  • Five-Finger Discount: Janice hugs Octavio after he lets her try out the I.D.E.A. helmet — and manages to steal from his coat pocket an envelope Fredwynn had told her about.
  • Flash Mob: Several of the Institute's events involve large numbers of participants converging on a single spot. Whether any of them include a Flash Mob Cover Up is as yet uncertain.
  • Four Eyes, Zero Soul: The Milkman, an oddly sinister figure who may be working for the Jejune Institute.
  • Funny Background Event: in Episode 7, while Octavio delivers his monologue straight to the camera, Peter and Fredwynn can be seen chasing the Milkman right through a fountain behind him.
  • Heel Realization: Fredwynn has one when he looks back at his memories and realizes his obsession with being right all the time has alienated people who care about him.
  • Hostage MacGuffin/Living MacGuffin: The missing Clara. Finding her is one of the ultimate goals of the Elsewhere experience; Commander 14 more or less orders the participants to look for her, and by Clara's own account she seems to have been kidnapped.
  • I Hate Past Me: An experience in which Janice apparently relives her wedding day and meets her own past self devolves into this, as they argue over whether Janice's married life — as satisfying as it was — led her to abandon her individual hopes and dreams.
  • Imagine Spot: We get a lot of these as a way of getting into the protagonists' emotional states. Notably:
    • Peter vividly imagines testing out some of the Institute's outlandish equipment, like personal force fields.
    • Simone has a conversation with a self-portrait of Berthe Morisot at the art museum where she works.
    • When Clara completes her waterfall mural, it appears to be animated.
  • Lead You Can Relate To:
    • Peter, Simone, Janice, and Fredwynn all qualify for this. The show makes it very obvious right from the beginning, exhorting the viewer to compare the characters' experiences and emotions to feelings they themselves have probably had.
    • AMC's advertising pushes it as well. The trailers individually introducing the main characters all end with the slogan "[CHARACTER'S NAME] IS YOU".
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: As Peter prepares to go through a door in a dark basement, the rest of the (normally timid) team quickly prepare for a major fight; Simone readies her Mace keychain, Janice breaks a bottle into a shiv, and Fredwynn draws a switchblade he carries.
  • Let's Split Up, Gang!: Done in Episode 6, so that the team can approach their investigation from two different angles (and also because Janice is still angry at Fredwynn after the previous episode). While Janice goes with Simone to hunt for more information on Clara, Fredwynn and Peter continue to investigate the Institute.
  • Liquid Courage: in episode 7, Simone knocks back quite a few tequila shots while getting ready to ask Peter to dance.
  • Living Is More than Surviving: One of the apparent goals of the Institute is to teach this. Indeed, Coleman's narration in the first episode focuses on how Peter's life has gradually withered away to nothing.
    Octavio: And this is tragedy in its most quietly devastating costume: a life without risk, a life without real pain, a life without real joys. This is existing, not living.
  • Magic Realism: The series strives for this tone, dropping strange places, inexplicable events, and abrupt Imagine Spots into the mundane world of Philadelphia.
    • namedropped and lampshaded by Simone, who has a lot of fun pointing out the similarities to Amélie, and says she prefers the "magic realism stuff" when Fredwynn theorizes the game is a con to steal their personal information.
  • Magic Versus Science: When you get right down to it, this is the root of the conflict between the Elsewhere Society and the Jejune Institute. One suggests that the creative spontaneity of art is the key to higher things, while the other represents a systematic attempt to access, quantify, and comprehend the higher things through technology (with the ultimate goal, of course, of commodifying and selling easy access to them).
  • Medium Blending:
    • In Episode 1, Commander 14's narration comparing Divine Nonchalance to the behavior of a Born Lucky cartoon character is accompanied by a split screen in which we see Simone's walk home from the cafe recreated as a black-and-white cartoon a la Max and Dave Fleischer.
    • Episode 5: Clara's account of her kidnapping starts off in live-action and shifts to animation.
  • Memory Palace: Fredwynne uses the technique by name to recall clues and details about the game, represented by him watching a bank of television monitors on a wall; he later teaches Janice to access hers, which starts as an empty space because, as Fredwynne explains, she hasn't learned to organize her thoughts for easy access.
  • Overly Long Gag: Octavio patiently waiting for the audience at the start of the first episode.
    Octavio: (after thirty seconds of silence) ...And now that I have your attention, I'll begin.
  • Perspective Flip: "Lee" begins as one of these, showing various events from previous episodes from her point of view instead of our heroes'.
  • Pride Parade: Simone goes to join one in the second episode, approaching a group of trans women. At the last moment though she runs away for an unknown reason.
  • Punk in the Trunk: In order to follow Octavio Coleman, Fredwynn climbs into the trunk of Octavio's limousine as it pulls away — frightening the hell out of Janice.
  • Running Both Sides: Fredwynn believes, with some fairly convincing evidence, that the Institute and the Elsewhere Society are being run by the same people.
    • Becomes even more likely when Commander 14 and Octavio send simultaneous, almost identical messages to their supporters, accusing each other of kidnapping Clara.
  • Scavenger Hunt: Much of the Elsewhere experience involves these.
  • Sequence Breaking: On the evening of the Jejune shareholders' conference, Fredwynn sets off the next phase of the game early by finding and blowing a whistle that was supposed to be the solution to the next puzzle. Of course, he saw the clues ahead of time — and he has no moral qualms about cheating the conspiracy.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Several characters either watch or talk about Law & Order: SVU.
    • Simone explicitly compares the experience of an Elsewhere Society Scavenger Hunt to Amélie, remarking that Peter — who's never seen it — doesn't need to see it since he's living it.
    • Simone is seen jogging up the famous "Rocky stairs", but she has a different reason — her workplace, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, is at the top.
    • The music streaming service everyone uses is called Manamana. May be an Actor Allusion as Jason Segel starred in the 2011 film The Muppets, which featured that song.
  • Soul-Crushing Desk Job: Peter's programming job for an online music streaming service that is totally not Spotify. When Simone comes to visit, he's embarrassed — not to see her there, but rather that she can see how lame his job is.
  • Take This Job and Shove It: Peter quits his job, right in the middle of being told why he's being fired.
  • The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday: Early on the game leads Peter into one, a garish pocket store filled with bizarre sculptures and lights, where he first meets Simone; inverted when the shop packs up and disappears the last day of the game.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Octavio confesses that he has told one lie in his introduction to the first episode, but reassures the viewer that he is NOT becoming one of these.
  • Wham Shot: Fredwynn is STILL convinced they're being played after the game ends as scheduled. So he breaks into the urn holding Clara's ashes and... Takes a bite. Then another. Because the urn is holding nothing but candy.
  • Wizard Classic: Commander 14 depicts himself as one of these, complete with Wizard Beard and gleaming purple robe, in the cartoon Simone watches. His occasional live-action appearances confirm the beard, though it's anybody's guess whether it's real.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: Peter and Simone, having interacted mostly with the Elsewhere Society, conclude that it's a righteous resistance seeking freedom and opposing the schemes of the Jejune Institute. Fredwynn and Janice, who have been following a different trail, are of the opinion that the Institute is mainly a righteous and philanthropic enterprise and the Elsewhere Society a bunch of loose-cannon troublemakers playing at being revolutionaries — although Fredwynn is starting to suspect that somebody is Running Both Sides.

"Behind this world, there is a world which has been hidden from you."