High Desert Ep 01, 02, 03 Recap – Patricia Arquette, Private Investigators, and A Stolen Picasso
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Amateur female detectives are having their moment on the small screen. Joining Pokerface’s Natasha Lyonne is Patricia Arquette’s Peggy. Directed by Jay Roach (Meet the Parents), written by Nancy Fichman, Katie Ford and Jennifer Hoppe-House (Damages and Grace and Frankie), and executive-produced by Ben Stiller (who’s recently worked with Arquette on Severance), High Desert is a zany drama about a woman who seeks redemption in a world of crime. Think Weeds meets The Big Lebowski.
In the opening scene, we meet Peggy at a 2013 pool party. It’s an idyllic Thanksgiving celebration in a luxury mansion, with adults enjoying the open bar and kids in the pool. The camera follows Peggy through her minimalist mansion, introducing us to her husband, her extended family and the gun-toting DEA team parked outside the home.
Her celebration is torn apart as her husband, Denny (Matt Dillon), is arrested in a DEA drug bust that ends their illegally funded life of luxury. Peggy flaps about in her kaftan, trying to eliminate the evidence as breasts spill out of swimsuits and kids scream. Her family sits calmly in the lounge, acting about a drug raid in the same way many of us react to a thunderstorm at a barbecue.
10 years later, Peggy’s life isn’t quite the glamour she previously enjoyed. She scrapes by working as an actress at a local Pioneer Town for Owen (Eric Petersen). She spends most of her shift smoking, using her phone, and avoiding doing her job re-enacting the pioneer life.
We meet Jeannie, another down-on-her-luck actress owed money by a private investigator called Bruce. We also meet Tammy (Susan Park), who thinks she is better than the others due to her boyfriend Guru Bob. She claims this former TV show host turned conspiracy theorist is loaded, but her engagement ring says otherwise.
Mid-way through a gun-toting saloon show, which has Peggy zip-wiring into the bar to save the day, she reconnects with her siblings Dianne (Christine Taylor) and Stewart (Keir O’Donnell). Unlike her complimentary colleagues, they believe Peggy to be an unrepentant liability to the family.
Peggy is a broken woman, mourning the recent loss of her beloved mother, Roslyn (Bernadette Peters), and coping with her estrangement from her son Ethan. Her siblings were happy supporting Peggy while she cared for their dying mother. Now Roslyn has passed, they want her to move out of their mother’s California house so they can sell it.
If Peggy didn’t have enough issues, she is a recovering addict visiting a pain management clinic. She is trying to stick to her methadone treatment course whilst also pretending her mother is still alive to get access to medication. She breaks down on the street in mourning for her mother, debating whether to take the pills offered to her by a stranger outside the clinic. It’s a heartbreakingly layered performance from Arquette. She transforms from a ballsy, confident woman, to a grieving mess in just a few expressions.
She gets a phone call from her friend Carol (Weruche Opia), who believes a federal agent is following her. Peggy quickly joins her in a dive bar, bumping into the suspected agent and stealing his wallet. It turns out the guy is a bystander, and Carol is just a bit paranoid. Carol is dealing with her stepdaughter Cooper (Jayden Gomez), who is acting up in the absence of her mother. This gives us some hints about Ethan, Peggy’s own troubled child who struggled without his mother growing up.
While drinking in a bar with Carol, a TV commercial comes on for Bruce Harvey (Brad Garrett), a cheesy private investigator stuck in the 1980s. She recognizes him as the man who scammed her co-worker. When Peggy arrives at his office (dressed appropriately in a trench coat and wide-brimmed hat), it is part eBay warehouse and part-time detective agency. Peggy wants a job, proving herself by getting his coffee order right after breaking into his car to count sugar packets.
This brief conversation leads to Peggy believing she has a career in private investigating in front of her. The self-described “Mary Tyler Moore on methadone,” thinks this is the new start she desperately needs. Her siblings dismiss it as another “crazy idea she has between rehabs.” You can really tell the difference in this scene between Dianne and Stewart and Peggy.
At the end of the episode, we see Peggy on FaceTime with Jeannie in her fiancé, Guru Bob’s home. In the background, Peggy spots what she thinks is an authentic Picasso painting that has been missing for a decade. She takes this apparent crime to Bruce, begging for a job. This conversation is all too quickly skipped over. Let’s hope we get more threads next week about this apparently missing Picasso and Guru Bob.
Peggy proves herself to be the “asshole whisperer” to Bruce by charming his landlord, who is threatening the PI with eviction. She gets a job with a 10% commission after some bad bartering from both. She wants to proudly tell her younger siblings the good news. They won’t even pick up their phones for her, leading to a mini meltdown in the car.
The episode ends with Peggy dropping acid and visiting Denny in jail. She wants a divorce; she doesn’t need a felon husband weighing her down. Things are looking up for Peggy, she is using her new career to start afresh and totally transform her life. Her husband has signed the divorce papers as Frank Sinatra and the police are looking for her regarding a stolen safe, but nothing is getting her down today.
High Desert Recap: Two Knockers and No Boyfriend = A Felony
High in the desert (the show sometimes takes the title quite literally), Peggy remembers being at drag bingo with her late mother. Episode 2 opens with Peggy finding beauty in a cactus flower, stopping to enjoy a small moment.
When she arrives at work, she is accused by her boss, Owen, of taking $3000 dollars from the safe. The CCTV happens to be empty, so this is no evidence of the culprit. She uses this as her first non-official case as a PI, deducting the key code and alarm code are the same (both Owen’s mother’s birthday).
Bruce’s office is falling apart, with sockets hanging out of the walls and wires tied together. The whole operation is tired and dated, and it needs someone like Peggy to give it a new lease on life. Bruce has enrolled Peggy in a PI training class, concerned that she may not be currently using the most legal practices.
Peggy isn’t too impressed, believing the class to be “crawling” when she could be “flying”. She may have a point, as the class is run by a senior citizen who appears to be working in slow motion. Peggy quickly exits the class, before she has time to give her name. She has better things to do!
Because the tutor doesn’t know Peggy, Carole theorizes that anyone could go to the class under her identity. Carole wants to attend the PI training sessions so she can hack databases and learn what the government holds on her. Another hint that the seemingly lovely Carole may have a dark past.
Peggy thinks she witnesses her late mother getting on a bus. This causes her to wonder if she has been dead the whole time. She’s very much alive, or a woman in California is a doppelganger for her deceased mother.
Next can-can rehearsal with Siobhan, who has added far too many twirls for Peggy to handle. She falls into the arms of Roger (Jeffrey Vincent Parise), who wants to see her outside of work. She wants a romance like Tristan and Isolde (ignore the fact their story ended in death) and quickly bats him away.
After dramatically quitting her job, Tammy is back. Guru Bob may have left her, but she has gained a new set of breasts. Peggy is curious as to why she has “two knockers and no boyfriend,” but she believes it’s a clue to a felony. It appears Peggy has an instinct for PI work because she soon deduces Tammy stole Owen’s money to pay for her breast augmentation. Don’t worry; give Peggy 60 hours, and she will sort it out.
We finally meet Guru Bob (Rupert Friend) in all his eccentric glory. The former TV reporter is trying to sell paintings Peggy believes to be stolen. She interrupts a very bad pitch between Bob and a man who hates cubism. Peggy thinks Bob should pay Tammy the money she stole from their workplace since she only altered her breasts to win him back.
As she leaves Bob’s house, she notices he is being threatened by art dealers who the self-proclaimed guru has clearly scammed. As Peggy haphazardly reverses down the drive, we can see Bob getting shoved into a car in the background of the shot.
The episode ends with Peggy at the drag bingo night at the Gran Oasis. Outside, she offers a stranger a joint before selling them the pill bottles she swiped from Bob’s house. This gives her the money she needs to play bingo and spend time with her late. The universe always finds a way, even if it’s by selling stolen drugs.
Outside the hotel, she gets a call from Bob. While arguing on the phone with him about money, she reverses right back into the truck behind her and smashes her car.
High Desert Recap: I’m Getting Close to This Guru Bastard
The third episode opens with a bloody Guru Bob running into a hospital ward clutching the nipple that was ripped off his chest. Peggy wakes up in her destroyed car, which is now buried under a truck. She somehow drives away in her now-convertible, fluffing her hair like nothing happened.
When she arrives home in the wreckage of her car, her sister is outside with a realtor. Peggy won’t even get her home appraised, determined not to sell her mother’s California property. Things are on the up for Peggy, and she can cope.
It doesn’t sound like this is the first car crash she has been in. When she asks her sister for money, Dianne admits it may be “cheaper to give her a chauffeured limousine.” The fact there is no roof, and no doors doesn’t stop Peggy from driving her car to work.
Peggy gets another phone call. Carole and Cooper have discovered something about Bob. His wife went missing some years ago. Evidence indicates she went to Mexico, but her family doesn’t believe it. There was a 70 grand reward, but the evidence makes it look like she left on her own accord. It looks like Peggy has a new case!
Now Carole can see Peggy’s deceased mother getting on the bus. Looks like it wasn’t just in Peggy’s imagination. Peggy races to get on the bus to see a woman who looks exactly like her mother (also played by Bernadette Peters). Ginger is a former actress who has been in “everything but The Wire.”
Peggy desperately wants to keep in touch with the doppelganger, pretending to know theatre people to get her number. Carole and Peggy come up with an idea to spend more time with Ginger. Write a play based on her mother’s last days and get all her hangups out of her system.
Peggy gets a phone call from the hospital to collect Bob, who is very high on pain meds. She only picks him up because she wants to reclaim Tammy’s money. When interrogated, Bob feigns his innocence, claiming the paintings were brought by his wife, who he has no idea about the current whereabouts.
Peggy brings Ginger to her workplace to rehearse the play she has written. She is trying to combine her own trauma of losing her mother and the frontier location where she will be performing the show. Peggy is pretty confident about the quality, selling the show to her boss as the “greatest tale ever told.”
Throughout the show, we hear hints of Guru Bob’s previous career as a TV anchor. Carole finally tracks down the infamous footage of his Network-style breakdown. Midway through an on-air news story about a sinkhole, he loses it. He starts shouting about how nothing has meaning anymore, Peggy can’t help but agree with the sentiment.
Whilst Bob is passed out on pain medication, Peggy steals his checkbook and uses it to pay Owen. This leads to Owen getting arrested for cashing a counterfeit check. Owen is not happy with Peggy, mainly because it will likely get him in trouble with his overbearing mother.
We start to see a little hint of attraction between Peggy and Guru Bob. She is coy when Carole asks her if she finds him attractive. We get the feeling Peggy likes her men a little unhinged. When Bob asks her to dinner, Peggy is quick to agree to it (as long as he is paying). Does Peggy want company or is she just determined to get the reward for his missing wife?
Guru Bob is looking to sell a Cezanne painting, but he doesn’t want to go through Southerbys due to their “high commission”. The real issue is the painting is probably stolen or a counterfeit. Peggy says she will still help him sell it, claiming she has contacts in the art world. She wants an upfront payment. Tammy’s money and charges against Owen dropped. The people who kidnapped Bob in the last episode are still lurking around him at dinner, waiting to pounce in future episodes.
The episode ends with Denny trying to gain access to her house, now apparently out of jail. Just when it was going so well for Peggy!
Amelia Harvey is a freelance film and TV reviewer and entertainment journalist. I was raised on Elvis musicals and share a love for all things camp and extravagant. You can find me musing over dark indie cinema, singing along with musicals and getting a little bit too excited at action blockbusters.