“Everything Happens a reason” is the opening line of the Mike Kelley created thriller What/If. This one line immediately pulls Netflix subscribers into the narrative. The placement of the line is perfect because Kelley’s anthology thriller is captivatingly addictive. Filled with more than a hint of late twentieth century noir / neo-noir, a healthy portion of drama and a side of citrussy mouth tingling twists, there is a little of everything for every audience member.
What is Kelley’s anthology thriller about?
Cause and effect, possibly the simplest way to look at the series, is an accurate description. What do you think might happen when good people go off the rails? What/If is what happens.
Every decision one makes ripples through life. Kelley’s series takes Netflix subscribers not on a journey through time and space or a visit to a mirror dimension but to a significantly darker plain where morality has no place.
Anne Montgomery, personified by Renée Zellweger, is every bit as manipulate as the character Robert Redford plays in the 1993 Adrian Lyne directed Indecent Proposal. Both characters know what they desire and go after it. Anne a venture capitalist with a sinisterly dark side to her nature.
Lisa Donovan, played by Jane Levy, is struggling to find funding for her fledging biotech start-up company Emigen. Anne presents Lisa with an intriguing proposal. The venture capitalist is coming to the table with $80 million. This $80 million is not as much an investment in Emigen as it is for one night with Sean Donovan. Sean, played by Blake Jenner, is Lisa’s husband.
What’s the catch? There is always a catch. Lisa and Sean are not allowed to discuss between them the night he spends with Anne. If they do speak of the night, the money will be taken away.
Even though What/If is reminiscent of the 1993 film, there are obvious differences. In Kelley’s Netflix series, the immoral wealthy individual is a woman and the object of her desire is a man.
Is there a trailer?
Even though the series initially found an unfavourable score with Rotten Tomatoes, the score on the review-aggregation website for What/If has seen a marginal decrease from 49 to 47 per cent on the Tomatometer. The number is based on a total count of 131. At the time of writing this, there is no audience score.
For RogerEbert.com, Allison Shoemaker writes, “When Zellweger’s not on screen, What/If is a mostly empty, broad strokes neo-noir soap, frothy and forgettable. When she appears, it’s still all of those things– but dear lord, please pass the popcorn.”
Pilot Viruet, a critic with the Observer, is more favourable towards Kelley’s series. The critic writes, “What/If is a series that can’t really be judged on whether it’s “good” or “bad” (but if we must: it’s definitely the latter). It’s preposterous but compulsive; I can’t quite say I’ve enjoyed watching the episodes but I’m dying to see how it ends.”
My personal thoughts are somewhere between what Allison writes for Roger’s website and what Pilot writes for the Observer. What/If is not a series one should think of in black and white terms. It is more about the grey areas of personal taste. Personal taste is not based on what critics think. If you like the series, that’s fine. If you don’t like it, that’s fine too.