Room 104 The Internet Review

(Each week, we’ll kick off discussion about Room 104 by answering one simple question: what’s the strangest thing in Room 104?)

If last week’s Room 104 was a minor ‘90s nostalgia trip, this week’s episode is a flannel-wearing, Beanie Babies-hoarding homage to the decade. In “The Internet,” the show goes back in time to 1997 for a mostly comedic story about a guy explaining the internet to his mom over the phone. This frustrating conversation leads to a life-changing discovery, as well as a potential career breakthrough. And it all happens inside a distinctly retro motel room.

Titlecard

What’s the Strangest Thing in Room 104? The Decor

“The Internet” opens with a series of quick shots inside Room 104. There’s one of the alarm clock, one of a desk lamp, another of the TV. You get the idea. This seemingly mundane montage is actually quite jarring, because we’ve never seen these objects before in Room 104. In fact, this appears to be another motel room entirely. But it is Room 104, just not the one we’re used to.

As a titlecard clarifies, this story is taking place in the summer of 1997. Our protagonist is Anish (Karan Soni), an aspiring novelist who’s landed a meeting with an impressive New York agency. His plan is to hole up in Room 104 for a few days, banging out the rest of his book before his Friday pitch meeting. But Anish soon discovers a major flaw in his plan: he left his laptop at his mother’s apartment.

He calls his mom Divya (Poorna Jagannathan) several times, leaving increasingly panicked voicemails. She doesn’t pick up all night, which gives Anish little to do but huff and watch evening news reports about Ellen DeGeneres. When Divya finally returns his call the next day, she has no idea that Anish left her so many messages. She doesn’t understand how her answering machine works, which bodes ill for what Anish is about to ask. He wants his mom to open his Word doc containing his book, copy the whole thing, and then fire up his modem so she can email it to him.

That doesn’t happen.

Anish’s request turns into an unmitigated disaster. His mother has obviously never used a computer before, and struggles to even locate a folder and open it. When Anish asks her to use the command keys to select all and then copy his text, she accidentally deletes the whole book. He screams, she screams, and it all ends with an earth-shaking revelation: Anish is adopted. This is a pretty devastating one-two punch, but Anish uses the loss of his book and this newly discovered family secret to begin writing a new, better novel.

Anish

Parents and Technology

The bulk of this episode is dedicated to the lengthy phone call between Anish and Divya. This setpiece is, until the very end, pure comedy. It’s a farce aimed at any millennial who’s ever had to explain Gmail to a confused parent, but it doesn’t tread any new ground with this familiar material. In a way, this doesn’t matter – the whole thing is a placeholder building to the ultimate dramatic twist – but it’s disappointing that “The Internet” invests so little effort in making the conversation fresh or just funnier. Scenarios like this one are already familiar comedic fodder. If the episode is going to spend a solid 15 minutes of a half hour episode on this bit, it should at least be more interesting.

The time warp is also a bit of a headscratcher. Parents and technology are an age-old problem, one that’s persisted long since we abandoned dial-up. Setting the story in 1997 certainly exacerbates Anish’s problems, but this disaster could’ve played out in the summer of 2017 just as easily. As it stands, the time jump feels gimmicky, a device that exists more for silly sight gags (like Anish’s orange boombox, or the retro Cheetos bag) than actual plot development.

Anish and Cheetos bag

Family Secrets

Since “The Internet” is devoid of ghosts and cult priests, the episode’s only mystery is Anish’s parentage. This is a revelation no viewer could reasonably anticipate, so it takes the audience completely by surprise, just as it does Anish. The story slips out in a moment of frustration, when Anish and Divya are having a very typical argument about expectations. Divya wanted Anish to “be somebody,” meaning a doctor or lawyer, not a writer. Anish wanted Divya to be more excited about his book, but condescendingly implies his immigrant mom isn’t smart enough to get it. Divya complains that Anish is “just like her,” which forces a long overdue conversation about her son’s real mother, Vetha. She was a smart teenage daughter of immigrants, with a bit of a wild streak. She wound up pregnant and disowned, so Divya took her in. But just like her parents did to her, this teen mother abandoned her child mere months later, leaving Divya to raise the baby boy as her own.

Anish realizes he never truly understood his mother, which leads him to a brainstorming session for a new book. This one doesn’t have a snooty title like his last one, “Gently Through the Current.” It’s simply a story about a new mom, his mom, and the sacrifices she makes for a baby that isn’t hers. In a final creative flourish, Anish imagines his first page typed out onto the ceiling, just as it would appear on a computer screen.

Anish and boombox

Where Is Room 104?

Anish casually drops a major clue about Room 104’s location in the voicemails he leaves for Divya. He repeatedly emphasizes that his pitch meeting with the New York literary agency is soon, “on Friday,” and that he got a motel room to complete the final 10% of his novel before that important appointment. Anish never clarifies exactly where Divya lives, but it’s apparently a distance too far for him to retrieve the laptop. So is Room 104 in New York? At the very least, the tristate area seems like a safe bet. Anish doesn’t have the money to rent a swanky Manhattan hotel room, but he also has anxiety about moving too far away from the location of his Friday meeting. He likely ended up in a dingy motel somewhere in New Jersey, Connecticut, or southern New York state. This might all be pure speculation, but don’t be surprised if a character winds up having a supernatural encounter in a Mets jersey in a future Room 104 episode.

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