Paul T. Goldman (2023) Miniseries Review: Self-conscious, fourth-wall-shattering humor has been the trademark of meta-television shows since the ’50s. With time, television used various themes and stories, giving it a meta touch to woo the viewers when they became more intelligent and mindful of evolving techniques in storytelling. In recent times, TV shows have frequently acknowledged their artistic and creative abilities, making them more attractive in capturing the differential essence between reality and fiction. Comedy shows such as Community, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and most recently, my personal favorite – Nathan Fielder’s The Rehearsal have repeatedly and intelligently acknowledged the blurred lines between fiction and reality. Some shows, such as The Office or Fleabag, fit the spectrum where the protagonists speak directly to the audience – narrating their version of the truth in a way that makes you want to speculate things about the show as if you are part of it.
As much as a Meta approach seems fascinating and impressive, it can be challenging to maintain. Since viewers are highly intelligent, they can understand when the show is trying too hard to be self-aware. When it comes to docu-style meta shows, the pretense of showing fiction as if it happened in real life can be a tricky balance. In order to keep the audiences from losing interest, this quasi-documentary style should keep inventing itself as it moves forward. A good documentary-style show can only attain its audience’s complete concentration if it keeps the meta-ness under control and does not divert the show’s appeal from the main plot.
The Peacock original show Paul T. Goldman takes a similar approach to its supposedly uninteresting character. By mocking the typical style of crime documentary shows that have overpopulated the streaming world, the show came into existence when a man named Paul T. Goldman tweeted Jason Waliner – the director and executive producer of the show, stating that he had an incredible story to tell and that he has already written a book and a screenplay about it.
The new mind-bending original series is a project that Jason Waliner (Known for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm) has been shooting for over a decade. It depicts an eccentric and fascinating true crime-ish story about a real man named Paul T. Goldman, who plays himself in the show. The series mixes fact and fiction in Woliner’s style, surprising the audience with its jaw-dropping twist to the tale about a man who learns horrifying secrets of his wife’s double life.
The six-episode series has a touch of experimentalism with dramatized scenes that Paul has written about his story starring himself. The show consists of telling Paul’s version of the truth and the actual reality, including behind scenes of the show, closely cut with the director directing and Paul narrating excerpts of his book – Duplicity: A True Story of Crime and Deceit.
The show takes us to the life of this lonely man who, in the lure of looking for love and a family, becomes an easy mark for cunning, manipulative women. First, he becomes a ploy of a Russian bride who marries him to get to the US before trouble in paradise arrives, and the wife leaves him to become a doctor. After getting full custody of his son (who he adores), he is now in a cordial relationship with his ex-wife, who likes to keep in touch for the sake of their child. Paul is, however, eager to find his young son a loving mom and a doting wife for himself.
After meeting Audrey through a dating app, it is love at first sight for Paul. Audrey has three children from her previous marriage, and for our protagonist, marrying Audrey makes perfect sense. Even though red flags had always existed before they married, Paul chose to ignore them and marry Audrey immediately.
Paul was the happiest man on the planet until his paradise started to crumble again. Audrey’s absence from his life every now and then and monetary demands made Paul suffer emotional damage when he finally understood he married a gold-digger. Their marriage lasts only 56 days until Paul decides to quit and leads an investigation with the help of the FBI into his wife’s unusual activities and discovers she is part of something illegal.
The story of Paul T. Goldman as the lonely man is conceptually brilliant, and his sentiments are significantly humanized; however, the character makes you so uncomfortable with his narrative that you want to question the existence of the subject. But at the same time, it feels like Woliner is deriving pleasure by making the protagonist an annoying personality for simply being naive and idiotic.
At first, the show’s lead character comes out to be funny because of his eccentric personality and mannerism; however, after a point of time, it becomes boring and monotonous due to the lack of anything interesting about him. The repetition of verbiage may seem humorous, but it gets a bit frustrating when it makes no sense to do it three different times in order to create a certain impact on the audience.
As the show proceeds, Goldman’s story becomes less interesting or enjoyable because of his self-belief theories and quirky personality – which is not very hard to notice as the director makes sure we cringe at the sheer awkwardness portrayed on the screen. There are bits of embarrassment that shows that Paul knows where he stands. Simultaneously, there are moments where it feels like the director is picking on him for being vulnerable and delusional by presenting him as unguarded and using him as the puppet whose vanity has been broken by his reality.