'Brand New Cherry Flavor' serves up a weird brew of empty calories

If you’re the type who enjoys consuming an eight-episode limited series and thinking “What the heck did I just watch?” when it’s over, “Brand New Cherry Flavor” might be for you. Otherwise, this bizarre Netflix drama will likely be an acquired taste, mashing up bad-old Hollywood with the supernatural, witchcraft and kittens, not always in that order.

Based on Todd Grimson’s novel and set in the early 1990s, the series focuses on a young filmmaker named Lisa Nova (“Alita: Battle Angel’s” Rosa Salazar, easily the best thing about the show) who comes to town to try developing her short film into a movie. The horror-themed project has caught the eye of an aging producer, Lou Burke (Eric Lange), although as always in Hollywood, only a fool trusts the big talk thrown around at pitch meetings.
The two wind up at odds over Burke’s false promises, but Lisa quickly encounters the mysterious Boro (Catherine Keener), who keeps telling her how special she is while promising her the opportunity to regain control over her creation — and exact a measure of revenge.
    What happens after that shouldn’t be spoiled and probably couldn’t be, but the weird detours include Lisa’s absent mother, zombies, what really happened during the making of the short, and Lisa meeting a rising actor (Jeff Ward) who takes an interest in the film and her, but might have entered into a situation — and indeed a hidden world — that’s clearly over his head.
      For the first few episodes, the series — adapted by Nick Antosca and Lenore Zion (“Channel Zero”) — effectively pulls the audience along, so strange and creepy it’s hard not to be curious about who Lisa is, what’s unique about her and where all of this might be heading.
        Yet as is frequently the case with such fare, the destination doesn’t justify the trip, which is filled with unsettling and occasionally gruesome imagery that begins to feel as if it’s more the point of the story than a means of telling it. The result oozes atmosphere, but it’s a sugary high without much substance.
        It’s a bit of a shame, since Salazar proves a fine lead as the wide-eyed newcomer, experiencing the entertainment industry and its most unsavory tics before the #MeToo movement, when sexism, misogyny and unvarnished greed didn’t need to hide in the shadows.
          Those shadows, alas, become the real impetus behind “Brand New Cherry Flavor,” which seems more preoccupied with delivering shocks and emulating David Lynch’s filmography than disgorging its secrets.
            The flavor certainly has bite, and for some, that’ll be enough. But as the macabre and just plain odd moments pile up, it’s pretty clear that this is one of those made-to-binge brews that’s the streaming-TV equivalent of empty calories.
            “Brand New Cherry Flavor” premieres Aug. 13 on Netflix.

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