The new Showtime series The Curse opens with a familiar scene to any fan of home renovation shows such as Fixer Upper, Home Town, and the like. Beside his mother on his sofa, the episode’s subject recounts the hard economic times he’s fallen on to a couple listening intently, nodding sympathetically, responding in dulcet tones. The pair are the hosts of a reality show that invokes that tried-and-true HGTV series archetype: a cheery twosome (often, but not always, a married couple) takes it upon themselves to change someone’s life for the better with a home makeover. And, as has become more common in recent years, the production strives to earn extra feel-good points with viewers at home by setting the participant up for long-term success with any other career- or passion-related resources they might be able to offer, with the power of the network at their disposal. But that familiar scene transforms, losing its sheen, when one member of the hosting duo, Asher Siegel (played by Nathan Fielder, also a writer and cocreator on the show), takes his words back, calling for a redo. He hadn’t struck the right tone.
“Can we not use me saying ‘Jesus’?” he asks. “I just want to say a different response.”
Considering the purported documentary-style structure of such home makeover shows, The Curse’s behind-the-scenes imagining of these programs as very contrived is, purposefully, unsettling. The discomfort of the series’ first few minutes stretches on as Emma Stone’s Whitney Siegel delivers some good news: They’ve also arranged a new job for their lucky subject after months of unemployment! But the reaction of his mother wasn’t camera-worthy, warranting yet another take. “Happy, Yadira! Mommy, happy! Son has a job, right?” coaxes producer Dougie (portrayed by cocreator Benny Safdie) from behind the camera. He resorts to menthol and water to create the tears of joy needed for such a moving moment. “It’s a little TV magic for you,” Whitney offers, with a nervous laugh. The cameras start rolling again.