Alibi V.25 No.48 • Dec 1-7, 2016 

Idiot Box

Psychic Vision

“Shut Eye” on Hulu

Hulu’s dark and occasionally dirty family crime drama “Shut Eye” follows closely the path laid out by such cable classics as “The Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad.” But it finds a clever new milieu in which to set things: the sketchy, sunlit LA world of storefront psychics.

Our antihero here is Charlie Haverford (Jeffrey Donovan from USA’s “Burn Notice”). Charlie is a former Las Vegas magician who moved to Los Angeles with his single-minded wife (KaDee Strickland from “Private Practice”) and his two kids and found work as a psychic reader, gently scamming gullible clients with tarot readings and “curse” removals. Shortly after arriving in town, however, he ran afoul of the local psychic Mafia. Seems the entire West Coast psychic trade is controlled by actual gypsies, led by the violent Fonzo (Angus Sampson from season 2 of “Fargo”) and his more seductive but no less vicious mother (screen legend Isabella Rossellini). Play by the rules, hand over a cut of the money you make, and you’ll get by just fine. Fail to obey and bad things could happen. Godfather kind of bad.

Given the prominence of the setting, it should be noted that “Shut Eye” teeters on the edge of casual racism. The word “gypsy” is bandied about quite frequently here. It’s a term that has fallen out of favor and is generally considered a racial epithet to anyone of actual Romani heritage—except, of course, in the psychic realm. There, people who claim ethnic origins in the northern regions of the Indian subcontinent round about a thousand years ago—whether through actual genetics or just wishful thinking—are at a premium. Most Romani are embarrassed by the stereotype of the gypsy fortune teller. But it’s hard to deny that such stereotypes exist. “Shut Eye” draws a quick distinction between Anglo con men like Charlie and actual Romani, who occupy the “upper management” positions of this criminal empire. I’ll leave it up to real-life Roma to figure out if the show upsets them. But if Italians weathered “The Sopranos,” I suppose the Roma can deal with this.

Ethnic quibbles aside, the show is fast-paced and extremely well-cast. As the pilot comes to an end, the narrative starts to tilt in an interesting direction. In the wake of an unfortunate concussion (administered by an unhappy client) and an untimely hypnotic suggestion (delivered by a desperate wannabe psychic played by Emmanuelle Chriqui from “Entourage”), Charlie finds himself in fleeting command of what might be snatches of actual psychic insight. This sudden burst of power inspires him to rebel against his nasty bosses and take his ambitious wife’s suggestion of going after a million-dollar mark (Mel Harris from “Thirtysomething”). Of course, all of this (plus a few other developing subplots) hints at the fact that things are going to go very badly for Charlie and his family—precognitive powers or not.

I’m not sure if “psychic noir” is a category, but I predict a solid future for “Shut Eye.” It’s sexy, tense, darkly comic and filled with just enough unexpected twists to keep those of us without ESP guessing.

Season 1 of “Shut Eye” premieres on Hulu Wednesday, Dec. 7.