I’m gonna start right off the bat and say that I absolutely despise the term “internet TV”. In my mind there is a sharp line of demarcation between television and the internet, so smooshing the two together like that just feels wrong. The problem is the term “web original” doesn’t quite do the job either, because it raises the question, original what? Original book? Original movie? Original steampunk origami sculpture? Perhaps we need some new words for this type of media. I propose we adopt the term Moving Images Propagated In the Digital Ether, or MIPIDE for short. This is the new thing. Tell your friends.
This naming confusion highlights just how odd something like The Booth at the End really is. Not that people haven’t put their own shows directly online before, but many of those feel at least a little home-spun, whereas The Booth at the End, looks like the real deal. In an era where more an more people consume the majority of their entertainment via streaming videos, The Booth at the End is a harbinger of the idea that professionally produced content can be distributed exclusively online.
But frankly I’m not writing this review to talk about the changing culture of entertainment. Because no matter what medium or method of propagation you choose for your fiction, the core question remains: is it any good?
For The Booth at the End, the answer is a resounding, “Yes.”
The Booth at the End is as clear an example I have ever seen of how a simple concept and minimalist execution can lead to an incredibly complex and nuanced story. The premise is this: Somewhere in middle America there is a nondescript diner. If you enter this diner and walk all the way down to the final booth you will find a man sitting, waiting. If you tell this man what you want, literally anything your heart desires, he can make it happen. For a price.
No name is ever given to the man who sits in the booth at the end assigning task after task out of his well-worn notebook, guiding his clients toward the things they claim to want. At first blush, the Faustian nature of his bargains and his seemingly supernatural abilitiy to make wishes come true casts him in the light of a demon in human form, perhaps even the devil himself. Yet, as the show progresses we begin to see sparks of humanity, flashes of frailty, insinuations that the nameless man is not the chessmaster of the game, but rather another piece on the board, and his clients are not the only ones who want something, nor are they the only ones willing to pay a terrible price to get it.
The Booth at the End is about the people who come to this man, the things they want, and the prices they pay. Of course, it isn’t quite that simple. Because rather than being a show about people having their wishes fulfilled, it is instead an exploration of the nature of desire. It asks the question, do you really want what you think you want? And how far would you be willing to go to get it?
Because while the man in the booth at the end can give you the thing you ask, the cost is higher than you can imagine. The price for each wish takes the shape of a task that must be performed, and it is in the execution of these various tasks that the meat of the story lies. Some of the tasks are terrifying on a purely moral level, a man asked to kill a girl in exchange for healing his son’s cancer, an elderly woman charged with building a bomb to set off in a crowded restaurant so that her husband can regain his memory. Other tasks, seemingly less horrific, lead those chosen to complete them through the darkest chambers of their own hearts, forcing them to face unsettling truths about themselves and the world around them. It is this revelatory experience that lies at the core of The Booth at the End, men and women from every walk of life coming to terms with who they truly are.
If you’re looking for something different, something with depth, something that will challenge you to think, then you can’t afford to miss the small marvel that is The Booth at the End. The entire series is available to watch for free on Hulu.
And while you watch, ask yourself this question: how far would you go to get the thing you want the most?