Mark Duplass channels Mark Kozelek & Daniel Johnston in HBO’s ‘Room 104′ season premiere
Room 104, the The Duplass Brothers' HBO anthology series where every episode is set in the same cheap motel room, returned for its fourth and final season on Friday. The terrific season premiere, titled "The Murderer," was the first episode of the series to actually star Mark Duplass, and he wrote and directed it as well. In it, he plays cult musician Graham Husker whose only EP, The Murderer, got shouted out by Bono at the 1993 Grammys and who has been missing presumed dead for 24 years. He is not dead, though, and after getting spotted at an open mic by a fanboy, Husker says he'll perform the EP for the guy and a few of his friends, but he's got a few stipulations.
The episode really plays with expectations of the fanboy characters and the audience, as the mythical songwriter shows up to Room 104 for this intimate performance in cargo shorts, a golf shirt and white tennis shoes and with a hairstyle Duplass says was based on Jeff Daniels in Dumb & Dumber. He immediately starts to chug from the keg of Keystone Light he asked to be provided and this supposedly magical night takes some unexpected turns.
Duplass, who spent years fronting indie rock band Volcano, I'm Still Excited!!, is channelling a lot of enigmatic cult artists with Husker, including Jeff Mangum and Daniel Johnston, with a little Eddie & The Cruisers mystique thrown in. But Duplass actually says the main inspiration came from Sun Kil Moon's Mark Kozelek, who he actually tried to get to play Husker. (Kozelek, who he's friends with, turned him down.) "I saw him play a show in downtown LA and it was definitely a bunch of like shoegaze in hipsters Gen Y people and they think we’re expecting Mark Kozelek to be like 28 and look and feel like them," he told The Ringer's The Watch podcast. "He was on stage and he’s, you know, a little bit out of shape, and he kind of had like a flat top... he wasn’t 'playing.' He had just like a microphone in his hand walking around stage, stomping around with this almost Ozzy Osbourne vibe and energy. It was traditionally not what you think of as an awesome indie cool rockstar. I’m just looking at the crowd and they were struggling, like 'this is not what it supposed to be' but it was just is so pure and so wonderful. More representative of the actual pain that he has than [if he had been] sitting down with his little nylon guitar."
Mark Duplass also wrote the songs Grant performs in the episode and they're all pretty great, pitch-perfect mid-'90s tortured loner folk stuff; very catchy and very credible and the jokes within them only really reveal themselves through the plot of the episode. "All Around Clyde's Backyard" could've been a hit. "The Murderer" gets in some good digs at indie fanboy worship, but it's also touching and a bit of a thriller. (Room 104 is an anthology series, every episode is self-contained.) You can watch the episode via HBO Max or on-demand and check out the trailer for Room 104's final season below.
PS: Mark just got nominated for Best Supporting Actor in the 2020 Emmys for The Morning Show. Congrats!
Also, Volcano, I'm Still Excited!! recently released a deluxe edition of Carbon Copy.