What does it take to make a big change in your life? How do you change your circumstances to find a place you belong? Creator Kevin Yee puts these questions front and center of his pilot for A Guide to Not Dying Completely Alone. Set to debut in competition at the 2023 SXSW Film and Television Festival, Yee turns the camera on himself to deliver an introspective comedy.
On the night of his fortieth birthday, Ben (Yee) suffers from a panic attack and passes out in a gay bar. He wakes up in the hospital with Rory (Brittani Nichols) at his side. The event wakes Ben up, making him realize his job sucks and that he was born to write a book. Simultaneously, we see an older man (Paul Wong) getting forced into retirement. Just as he’s about to leave his job, he receives a book as a gift.
In many ways, Yee confronts mortality with a more direct approach than most. As he stares into a mirror, we get a nice shot of an older man. The moment, which pays off at the end of the episode, allows our minds to wander. Who was the man, and why is Yee seeing him at the height of a panic attack? The hints are there, and it makes for a more cathartic end to the episode.
Yee and Nichols play off each other’s energy extremely well. Nichols gets a handful of great laugh lines and excels at playing the sincere character in the dynamic. It allows Yee to hammer home his comedy, including an amazing metaphor about a goose. Expanded over more episodes, it would be great to see how they connect and change with each other. There’s enough here to know they’d be special.
While the comedy certainly works in the short pilot, the emotion needs a little more development. Yee handles the comedy to perfection, he pushes a little hard on the dramatic developments. While at a restaurant with Nichols, the emotion feels slightly forced. It’s a shame because the sentiment expressed is very well written. Rather than pushing the emotion, a more subdued, lonely delivery would have allowed the moment to hit.
A Guide to Not Dying Completely Alone has a lot of great stuff going for it. The cast seems locked into the tone, and the comedy works. This could be a very fun show over more episodes, and we’d certainly like to see more.