Sometimes when life gives you lemons, you only have lemons. That bittersweet feeling pervades every minute of creators Kevin Iso and Dan Perlman’s ten-episode Showtime series “Flatbush Misdemeanors.” Adapted from Iso and Perlman’s digital series, the pair star in a show that takes place in the quickly gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood of Flatbush. Their characters dodge relationship problems, a vicious yet good-hearted local drug dealer, and their own mental ailments to carve out a place in their sharp-changing world.
In the three episodes granted for review, “Flatbush Misdemeanors” displays the same penchant for dry dark humor that shot “Atlanta” into orbit while distilling the shared downbeat emotions tethering these two men together.
Friends since middle school, Dan (Perlman) and Kevin (Iso) are unlikely roommates. Dan works as a grammar school teacher by Flatbush and Caton. Jaded and visually sad, he pops anti-anxiety medication with the frequency of House, M.D. digesting vicodin. Unlike Gregory House, however, Dan isn’t a savant. He drifts listlessly from day-to-day with little regard for his students, and doesn’t even know who’s passing or failing. Instead his doleful eyes settle on the school’s springy-haired assistant principal Jess (Sharlene Cruz). Kevin, on the other hand, is a struggling Black painter sleeping on Dan’s couch. He makes ends meet by working as a bicycle courier for a local jerk-chicken joint.
“Flatbush Misdemeanors” isn’t a show filled with big plot points; similar to “Atlanta,” modest scenarios drive Iso and Perlman’s lean writing. In the premiere, Kevin makes a food delivery to a local drug dealer Drew (Hassan Johnson), only to accidentally spill a bottle of the dealer’s Codeine cough syrup. An irate Drew allows Kevin a single day to pay him back the lost earnings before he kills him. On its face, that probably doesn’t sound low-key. But the series never delves into any actual violence.
The majority of the first episode’s run time is dedicated to exploring the tapestry of this well-felt neighborhood: Kevin turns to his activist girlfriend Jasmine (Kerry Coddett) for financial help. Dan goes to his boisterous, trolling Black father-in-law, Kareem (Kareem Green), to elicit funds too. All the while, Dan angles to quell an altercation between his two students—Zayna (Kristin Dodson) and Dami (Zuri Reed)—over a Gucci belt. Another episode sees the pair trying to save an older Black tenant from eviction in the gentrifying neighborhood. One other witnesses Dan toting a mini-cactus as a present for Jess’ birthday party. Random run-ins with side characters further add depth and contours to this Brooklyn hub.
These odd characters are supported by Iso and Perlman’s dark, sardonic humor. Kareem pushes his stepson to call him daddy in exchange for a favor; Kevin offers rambling excuses to Drew in the hopes of forestalling his bullying. Dan’s digressive pep talks, which are actually quite negative, imbue the brisk show with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. A copious amount of visual humor teems from these breezy situationals. In the style of an omniscient narrator, often a subtitle will inform us of a character’s true thoughts: “Drew also values a child’s innocence” was a favorite of mine.
The obvious theme coursing through “Flatbush Misdemeanors” is mental health. Iso and Perlman, however, do not lay that ingredient on heavy. They lightly populate Dan and Kevin’s arc with an aura of unfulfillment: Dan is romantically alone and Kevin can’t seem to break through as an artist. They seem adrift in their surroundings, and the way back to shore might as well be under dense fog. That sentiment is first captured through Tipping’s raw, frenetic direction, with sharp whip pans and long takes that further instill a sense of intimacy. If you visually shook these characters any harder, they’d probably crumble under the weight of their doldrums.
The unmoored melancholy inhabiting these figures is especially felt in Iso and Perlman’s complementary performances. Just by their call-and-response droll vocal patter, the balletic blocking between them, and their anticipatory facial reactions, their bond feels fully lived-in. That comfortability is of course born from the actors’ real-life collaborations. And it gives us the sense that these two men not only could share anything. They do share everything.
Some of the episodes can be a tad too discrete—we rarely feel like we’re narratively moving forward. But between the array of intriguing supporting players and the heartfelt friendship at the core of this darkly comedic series, Iso and Perlman’s “Flatbush Misdemeanors” is a hilarious, unforced two-hander that feels totally fresh.
Three episodes screened for review.