Apple TV+ neo-noir comedy High Desert gets mired in criminal business and stolen paintings this week. The show stars Patricia Arquette as Peggy Newman, who’s doing some on-the-ground investigation into a missing woman and the trail of chaos she left in her wake.
Is her husband, a mutilated guru, to blame? Or the woman’s mobbed-up brothers? The episode, entitled “Get Judy off the Bed,” delivers another delirious dose of the streaming service’s newest success.
High Desert Recap: ‘Get Judy off the Bed’
Season 1, episode 4: Peggy Newman (played by Patricia Arquette) is having a flashback to her adolescence (with the younger version of Peggy played by Harlow Jane). After Peggy watched her dad (Bernhard Forcher) betray her mom (Bernadette Peters) and take off with one of her mom’s friends, she vowed never to get married.
Fast forward to 2023, and Peggy’s dealing with the fallout from not keeping her own promise to herself. Her husband Denny (Matt Dillon) just got out of jail after a 10-year sentence for drug possession and sales. Denny has big plans, and none of them include signing the divorce papers Peggy keeps thrusting in his direction. He wants to open a martial arts studio. But before he can do that, he has to do what is called, in certain religions, a soul retrieval.
What Denny means, of course, is a “silver retrieval.” He left a bunch of silver in their old house when he got arrested. And now he needs Peggy’s help getting it back. She’s stunned that he’s still so greedy and stupid.
Peggy the struggling PI (and wannabe art thief)
Peggy has no time for him now. She’s a not-terribly-successful private investigator, working under the similarly unsuccessful PI Bruce Harvey (Brad Garrett). She’s lying to her boss about taking a 15-hour PI course to get her license, but she does desperately want the job — and the turnaround in her fortunes it promises.
Part of Peggy’s plan involves stealing, or obtaining by other means, a missing Picasso from a local celebrity named Guru Bob (Rupert Friend), who she shook down for a few grand on behalf of her co-worker Tammy (Susan Park). Peggy’s friend Carol (Weruche Opia) did some digging, and found out that Bob was married to a woman, now deceased, whose family, the Gatchis, are local crime bosses.
Peggy decides to see for herself. She visits Nick Gatchi’s (Carmine Giovinazzo) massage parlor/brothel to try and feel out his nefariousness and see if he knows what happened to his dead sister Donatella. Nick doesn’t think Bob killed Donna. And the only thing Peggy learns that’s of much consequence is that the tanning rooms are lined with stolen art.
She spies a Magritte, or a replica of one, which gets her wheels spinning. It seems to her that Donna made copies of masterpieces, Bob sold them to gangsters, and now Donna’s dead.
Back at the Wild West show …
In her semi-normal other life as a player at a Wild West re-creation, Peggy’s rehearsing a play starring a local actress named Ginger (also Bernadette Peters) who was a regular on daytime TV in the ’70s and ’80s. Ginger just happens to look exactly like Peggy’s dead mother.
Peggy lies to her sister Dianne (Christine Taylor) to get her down to the Wild West show to have her do a therapeutic re-creation of their mom’s dying moments. Dianne is weirded out by it, but eventually settles in and starts confessing things. She says she was mad at their mom because when their father left, she became a shell of her former self.
Ginger blows it at the last minute by returning Dianne’s words of forgiveness.
“What are you forgiving me for?” Dianne asks.
“I don’t know … just felt right,” Ginger says. “She’s a little clingy.”
Dianne storms off.
Chastened ever so slightly, Peggy agrees to help Denny get his missing silver back, provided she gets 60% of what it’s worth when they get it to a fence. Then, to sweeten the deal, she sleeps with him.
I hope you make a better art buyer
High Desert’s sweetly treacherous energy is highly infectious. Arquette rockets in a given scene (sometimes a total of 10 seconds) between “conniving monster” and “caring maternal figure” so swiftly and deftly that you don’t have time to sort out the conflicting impulses or your response to them. She’s just a blast to watch.
Peggy’s rehearsals of her real life in a Wild West attraction have a Deadwood/John From Cincinnati energy to them that is so touching and deranged that you can’t stop to think about any of it. You just stay belted to your seat for fear you might miss something.
The show, and the dialogue especially, move a mile a minute, which is all the better as Peggy is the kind of character you don’t want to overanalyze so much as just ride shotgun with. I don’t have a clear picture of the arc of the season yet, but it matters very little. With High Desert, the getting there is a joy.
Watch High Desert on Apple TV+
New episodes of High Desert arrive Wednesdays on Apple TV+.
Watch on: Apple TV+
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper and But God Made Him A Poet: Watching John Ford in the 21st Century, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.