Not everything lands just right, however. The narrative sort of spins out in the final lap, particularly in the finale, “Leap Year Girl.” Calls, which hits us big with an “in media res” opening and then backtracks to fill in all the gaps and steps that led to such a bizarre and apocalyptic beginning, definitely plays at its strongest when things remain a mystery. The more questions it answers, the softer its bite gets. Calls would have remained a grander work, overall, if it didn’t go so full-tilt with hard answers, but ultimately it’s still a haunting series that, more often than not, pulls off some brutal, bone-chilling tricks.
At first, with a new format for many to get used to, and perhaps more focus than usual needed for dialogue, viewers (listeners?) might be tempted to pick out some of the famous voices. Fortunately, the story grabs you quickly and in no time at all, it’s possible you won’t care who’s voicing who because you’ll be in the clutches of a cool, cosmic calamity. Pedro Pascal, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Nick Jonas, Ben Schwartz, Karen Gillan, Rosario Dawson, and Aubrey Plaza are just a few of the names shuffled up in the deck and most of them blend and weave nicely into the drama without being distracting. It takes a lot of things going right to pull off this type of purely conversational storytelling. The dialogue has to feel natural and the acting has to seem real to buy-in. There are a few moments, particularly in the finale, when a few of the performances feel heightened and character-y and it sort of rips you out of the saga.
The visuals of Calls are sparse, but they work to dial this up a few notches above a straight podcast. Waving colors and geometric shapes work to help us keep track of who’s speaking, their mental state, and also even some of the more out-there happenings occurring. As each story spirals out of control in its own crazy and traumatic way, so does the “light show.” So attention was surely paid to the design of what’s happening on the screen and that acts as a sort of stealth hero for the series in the end.Calls features infidelity, betrayal, theft, and murder crashing head-on with a chaotic series of seemingly random metaphysical craziness. Sometimes it plays like an alien invasion, sometimes a haunting ghost story. But once you begin to see the larger picture, and the bigger fable at work, it all becomes even scarier. It’s a shame that the ending feels a touch too tidy, but the journey is worth it.