Room 104 review: HBO’s premiere episode Ralphie was a chilling and brilliant start

Ethan Kent as Ralph lying on a bed in Room 104
Ralph is not what he appears to be in the premiere of HBO’s Room 104

The filmmakers behind Room 104 on HBO, the Duplass brothers, worked under one rule — every episode must take place entirely in the same room of an ordinary American chain motel.

This simple premise sets up a breathtaking and profound anthology that whipsaws us from horror to drama, awkward comedy, and riotous moments while always leaving the viewer unsure of what will happen next.

The premiere, titled Ralphie, is a frightening Outer Limits-styled send up.

The building tension leaves you wrung out from the stress of what to believe, and from asking “how did that happen?’.

Meg (Melonie Diaz) is a babysitter who has been ordered by a man through an agency.

She arrives at Room 104 to watch over young boy Ralph (Ethan Kent) while his father goes out for the evening.

In the opening scene, Ralph’s father Bradley (Ross Partridge) sits on a bed, his head in his hands.

It appears he is broken, utterly worn out by something, and at his last tether.

Meg observes this odd moment before she knocks on the door.

Ralph looking up at Meg
Ralph is about to introduce Ralphie to Meg

Meg is abruptly left with the boy, who is in the bathroom and who refuses to come out.

Ralph appears calm and then warns Meg is incremental doses that there is a nasty kid named Ralphie in the bathroom with him, and she must be quiet for fear of rousing and enraging him.

Not to spoil it too much, Ralphie then makes an appearance. Meg fights for her life and then the twist you never expected comes.

Meg (Melonie Diaz), cowering on the floor
Meg cowers on the floor after being attacked by Ralphie

At its soul, Room 104 is elemental television. Simple and straightforward, it holds its unusual human stories in 30-minute adrenalized dosages.

During the Television Critics Association (TCA) summer press tour, writer Mark Duplass said the simplistic set was key to the success of the show, but wasn’t easy to pull off.

He said: “The design of the hotel room was very important to us and, quite frankly, hard to get right.

“We worked closely with our cinematographer, Doug Emmett, and with our production designer, Jonah Markowitz, because on the one hand, we needed the story to support a banal, boring corporate, average, American chain motel, which is just nothing we want to look at — but that’s what the story needed.

“So we had to choose textures and elements that would accept or reject light in the right scenarios that were mutual enough that could change so that Doug, our cinematographer, could create a varied look.”

Room 104 demonstrates that without expensive effects, stripped of big stars and shiny production embellishments, a great story is the key to making us want more.

The Duplass brothers are masterful at distilling unique and compelling yarns for us to dine on.

HBO was once the Friday night home of the no-miss Tales From The Crypt, an adult anthology series that was pure genius in story and execution.

In Room 104, they have resurrected the ghost of great Friday night programming and delivered a top-notch grown-up series you will not want to miss.

Room 104 airs Fridays at 11.30pm till midnight ET/PT on HBO.

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