It’s tempting to compare the worldviews of Jimmy McGill and Sean “Dud” Dudley (Wyatt Russell), the protagonist of AMC’s “Lodge 49,” a new show airing with Jimmy’s “Better Call Saul” on Monday nights. Both men are often adrift, unsure of where to go or what to do next. However, Dud seems more willing to embrace the ebb and flow of the universe, and just see where it takes him. In the series premiere, it pushes this lost young man into a unusual society known as the Lynx. They’re one of those barely-private groups (anyone can join with a fee) that gathers for beers and emotional support, but Dud gets it in his head that they will be the guiding force to right his tumultuous life. And maybe they will.
Dud has one of those existences that isn’t exactly torturous but more unfocused. His father passed recently and he’s stalking the people who bought his family home when it was foreclosed upon. He scours the beach with a metal detector for stuff to pawn for food. He breaks into his old apartment and essentially squats there, furniture-free. But he seems to maintain that “surfer dude” outlook on life, and Russell’s performance excellently balances a character who could have been little more than a depressing sad sack or freeloader. Russell is a charismatic, talented actor, and his work, at least at the beginning, is the reason to watch “Lodge 49.”
The story is not only his, however. We also spend a great deal of time with Ernie Fontaine (Brent Jennings), a supply salesman who also happens to be in the power structure at the Brotherhood of the Lynx. Like Dud, Ernie is a little adrift, unable to pay back rising debts and at that age when he’s starting to wonder when it’s going to be his turn. He wants his portrait on the wall. And he thinks he may get it when it looks like he will take over management of the Lynx from his eccentric friend Larry (Kenneth Welsh). We also meet Dud’s sister Liz (Sonya Cassidy), who may be more level-headed than her brother but also struggles in a world that increasingly feels like it’s defined by how we manage our debt.
A show about people looking for focus while working dead-end jobs is ambitious when so much of the TV landscape is dominated by shows with high-concept hooks like killer robots or anti-heroes. However, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that “Lodge 49” lacked some necessary energy, at least over its first few episodes. I’m down for sharing a cheap beer with Dud and Liz every now and then, but a show needs more than likable characters to catch an audience in 2018. Too much of “Lodge 49” feels almost defiantly undercooked, like it’s trying too hard to capture a laidback SoCal vibe and purposefully avoiding structure and momentum. With so much television out there that even critics can’t keep up with all of it, there’s just not a compelling enough reason to check into “Lodge 49.”