Apple+’s new series, High Desert, is a broad comedy. I don’t mean that it appeals to the lowest common denominator; rather, it is a comedy about a former drug dealer who becomes a private eye. Patricia Aquette plays Peggy, a properly brassy broad.
When we first meet Peggy, it’s 2013 and she’s flying high as a successful drug dealer in Yucca. She lives in a midcentury modern paradise with a killer pool. But the cops show up to raid her idyllic home. There, hey find enough weed to put Peggy away for years (this was well before California legalized pot). A decade later, Peggy is a free woman who seems to have made some progress in life: she’s on Methadone, which keeps her substance use issues more or less in check. In fairness, in her drug dealing days, she did harder stuff than the pot she sold. Back to the present day, she’s paying the bills working as a saloon girl in an Old West Pioneer Village. The Old West Town where Peggy is employed looks like if West World used real humans instead of AI.
A definite strength of High Desert is how fully realized its protagonist is. Creators Nancy Fichman, Katie Ford and Jennifer Hoppe-House have imbued Peggy with humour abd charm. And they put just enough grandiose self-delusion to make things interesting. Peggy’s business of choice was illegal at the time she built her empire. But still, she’s a natural businesswoman who was born to do more than show tourists how frontierswomen baked bread. Peggy’s prim sister Dianne (Christine Taylor) and straight-laced brother Roger (Jeffrey Vincent Price) decide to stop subsidizing her. Even then, she is forced to get creative to supplement her income. “I need a hustle,” she declares to her friend Carol (Weruche Opia) at an atmospherically seedy bar. Luckily, our leading lady is nothing if not resourceful.
Before long, a hustle presents itself! When a colleague of Peggy’s feels ripped off by a private investigator she hired to help with a child support dispute, Peggy sets out to confront the detective. Pushy dame that she is, Peggy walks away with both a refund for her friend and a new job for herself. She tells private investigator Bruce (Brad Garrett), “I’m a natural detective. You need me and I need this job.” It’s not an outstanding argument, given that Peggy neither has a detective license, nor the ability to get one (thanks to her criminal record); however, moxy goes a long way in this fictional world. “I don’t get up before 11,” Peggy warns her boss. He counters that she’ll need to be there by 9, but his new hire probably gets the last laugh on that front.
Directed by Jay Roach, the central mystery of High Desert isn’t one Peggy solves, but whether she is capable of the fresh start she craves. Peggy believes she’s found a new calling in detective work. But her substance use issues and Denny, the incarcerated husband who refuses to divorce her (Matt Dillon) may stand in the way. There’s also the issue of the son of whom Peggy lost custody years befre. It’s a trauma Peggy seems not to have fully come to terms with when we meet her.
Ultimately, High Desert is promising and highly watchable. Patricia Arquette didn’t win an Oscar for nothing – she knows how to tickle your funny bone in one scene and pull on your heartstrings in the next. Fortunately, Garrett also provides an excellent scene partner. Their banterous jabs are A+ although, unlike on a show like Moonlighting, the jabs are more ornery than sexy. Their mystery-solving partnership has the makings of a fun duo!
If you’re sad that the writer’s strike delated the return of Hacks (and by the way, I’m rooting for you, WGA), High Desert might scratch that itch. Like Jean Smart, Patricia Arquette manages a perfect balance of caustic wit and old-school glamour. Peggy is a comedic heroine you really root for!
- Rated: TV-MA
- Genre: Comedy, detective show, Mystery
- Release Date: 5/17/2023
- Directed by: Jay Roach
- Starring: Bard Garrett, Christine Taylor, Matt Dillon, Patricia Arquette, Weruche Opia
- Produced by: Ben Stiller, Jonathan Talbert
- Written by: Jennifer Hoppe, Katie Ford, Nancy Fichman
- Studio: 3 Arts Entertainment, Apple Studios, Delirious Media, Red Hour Films