Web Series: 'Munkey in the City' Speaks to Aspiring Artists Everywhere
Pursuing one’s dream can be a long, challenging journey, but Munkey in the City, the debut miniseries from Michael T. Nguyen, proves that it can be a poignant one as well. Mixing comedy, romance, and unexpected doses of surrealism, Munkey reexamines the well-known journey, and the notion that you might just find yourself along the way.
The series opens on the titular character, Munkey (Kenny Leu), as he arrives in the big city. Naive and hopeful to a fault, he aspires to be the next great American novelist. The only problem is, he appears to have an allergy to originality. Instead of coming up with ideas of his own, he barges in on publishers and proceeds to rehash famous books like Jurassic Park-- seemingly oblivious to the issue. The way he sees it, why gamble on his own voice when others have proven more successful?
It’s a decision that most artists have to make at some point, and to it's credit, Munkey in the City doesn’t pretend to have the answer. It’s much more interested in how Munkey struggles to find his own, whether in terms of inspiration or a romantic partner to share it with. The latter is where much of the show’s dry, witty humor comes into play. Munkey is an awkward guy, there’s no two ways about it, and seeing him fumble numerous romantic encounters is both hilarious and relatable for any guy who’s ever been turned down. One particularly funny scene finds Munkey trying to impress a girl (Monica Barbaro) with his literary knowledge, only to have her turn around and school him on the topic. “It’s just not the hottest thing to talk about on a Friday night,” she adds. Ouch.
As Munkey, Kenny Leu turns in an extremely likable performance. There are times when his inability to pick up on social cues lands him in hot water, but they’re quickly followed by the realization that he is trying. His naiveté is practically stamped on his forehead, and it’s fun to see him try to feign confidence with people he meets. Leu also gives the character some great quirks throughout, like his penchant for drinking wine through a straw (fyi: it doesn’t actually get you more drunk) or the fact that he writes poems on scrap paper and leaves them on the subway. Exactly what he hopes to gain from the latter is left unclear, and yet it adds a shade of romanticism to his already hopeful character.
Where things get confusing is when a grotesque, growling figure appears at the end of episode three (“This Life is Overrated”). Munkey seems unfazed by the figure, despite his close proximity, and then it’s suddenly gone. It occurs several times over the course of the season, and according to Nguyen, who writes and directs each episode, the figure is meant to be a representation of Munkey’s aggressive conscious. Think Tyler Durden by way of the hobo from Mulholland Drive. Unfortunately, this promising concept is never really made all that clear in the series. There’s nothing tying Munkey and the figure together, and what we do get is so vague that it can be interpreted in any number of ways. We’re never even told that his name is “The Munkey King.” I’m all for the unusual, but it would do the series good to reveal a bit more here.
There are other things to pick at in Munkey in the City, like it's amateur camerawork, or the occasionally stilted acting of its supporting cast, but it manages to overcome these flaws with a thoughtful, relatable approach to adulthood. Munkey aspires to achieve greatness, but the path to get there is unclear, and the moments he admits this to himself are the ones in which he grows as a character. The pool hall chat between him and an unnamed woman is a turning point of sorts, as his insistence of being "happy" with life is countered with a simple question: “Then why are you here?”
At six episodes, and an estimated thirty minutes, Munkey in the City is a criminally brief viewing. With that said, Nguyen manages to pack a sitcom’s worth of material into its runtime, making each episode stand out for its own unique (at times bizarre) reason. For those of you who are aspiring artists, Munkey is further proof that the journey can often be just as rewarding as the destination.
All six episodes of Munkey in the City are available to stream on YouTube and Munkeyinthecity.com.