Steven Soderbergh's 'Mosaic' puts together intriguing puzzle

"Mosaic" takes its name seriously, putting together a picture with a shifting series of pieces, as the perspective sh...

Posted: Jan 22, 2018 2:13 PM
Updated: Jan 22, 2018 2:13 PM

"Mosaic" takes its name seriously, putting together a picture with a shifting series of pieces, as the perspective shifts from one character to another. In that, this HBO drama from director Steven Soderbergh essentially takes a pretty conventional murder mystery, dresses it up with a gimmick and comes away with a pretty compelling if somewhat conventional story.

The aforementioned gimmick involves an app made available in advance of the show, allowing viewers, as HBO puts it, to choose which characters to follow and "build their own experience from the material created and curated by Soderbergh and [writer Ed] Solomon."

Interactivity of this sort has long been discussed, and it's becoming more practicable. Still, as drama "Mosaic" ultimately has to stand on its own, especially for those who aren't interesting in availing themselves of the "Col. Mustard in the snow-covered cabin with a candlestick" add-ons.

Fortunately, what emerges is solidly executed, with a good, ever-changing cast, kicking off with Sharon Stone as successful children's author Olivia Lake. A bit of a Norma Desmond type, the lovelorn Olivia takes in a young aspiring artist ("Mudbound's" Garrett Hedlund), before snapping when she discovers that his interest in hanging around her sprawling winter wonderland might not be romantic.

Sharing her insecurities with a friend (Paul Reubens), Olivia quickly launches into another relationship with Eric (Frederick Weller), who harbors his own shadowy motivations, before abruptly going missing. That, in turn, leads to a police investigation, as the focus shifts again -- to Eric's sister (Jennifer Ferrin), and a cop (Devin Ratray) she enlists to help her -- with Soderbergh and Solomon ("Men in Black") keeping viewers guessing about whether this was simply a crime of passion or might be associated with a larger, more elaborate and nefarious plot.

Because the characters and perspective keep shifting, "Mosaic" benefits from what amounts to binge viewing, and HBO is breaking form a bit by displaying the program on its linear channel in that fashion: the six-part series will air over five successive nights, with the last two installments playing back to back.

Granted, "Mosaic" isn't as groundbreaking or novel as its purveyors might like people to believe, but it reflects Soderbergh's desire to play with the TV form, an approach he has brought both to his increasingly frequent forays into television, with "The Knick" and "Godless" as predecessors.

The underlying conceit of "Mosaic" is tied to the notion of TV consumption increasingly being a two-screen experience, tapping into viewers' appetites for additional content to augment passive viewing. That's all to the good, but still only works if the pixels that go into the main picture -- as this one mostly does -- adds up to being one worth watching.

"Mosaic" premieres Jan. 22 at 8 p.m. on HBO.

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