Netflix's latest anthology series comes with a big helping of scenery chewing, thanks to its Oscar-winning lead Renée Zellweger, plus not one but two Glee alums to support its campy antics, and a creator who's credited with reviving the primetime soap. So viewers tuning in to the highly anticipated cusp-of-summer romp may be wondering: is What/If based on a book? Its twisty plot is definitely over the top, and sin a modern, gender-swapped take on An Indecent Proposal from the mind of Mike Kelley, who was behind shows like ABC's primetime soap Revenge and Swingtown, CBS's period drama about 1970s swinger culture.
Kelley also serves as What/If's writer, executive producer, and showrunner, and, according to Deadline, he plans to set each season of the show in a completely different world: "Each season will tackle a different morality tale inspired by culturally consequential source material, and the power of a single fateful decision to change the trajectory of an entire life." There's no word yet on whether or not Netflix plans to renew, let alone the Season 1 cast's future availability, but Kelley says he'd eagerly jump at the chance to work with any of them again in an interview with Forbes.
In What/If, Zellweger plays a morally bankrupt Silicon Valley venture capitalist who offers to help a young woman named Lisa (played by Suburgatory's Jane Levy) fund her flailing molecular sequencing project in exchange for a night with her husband (Glee's Blake Jenner). This moral quandary, which the couple winds up taking her up on, triggers a chain of events through which the show explores what happens when good people do bad things.
Most of the show's early reviews pick up on its heavy mid-90s, neo-noir, femme fatale, sexy thriller vibe, and point out that the outlandish series feels a little dated because of it. But Kelley says his choice to lift so much from that particular genre was intentional. According to Forbes, the show was very much inspired by Kelley’s "obsession with late ‘80s and early ‘90s thrillers, including Fatal Attraction, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, and Indecent Proposal," so he's self-aware about the similarities. And despite the show's over-the-top suds, it seems primed for summer kickoff guilty pleasure viewing.
Zellweger, whose character at one point takes it upon herself to practice archery in her San Francisco penthouse kitchen, told Forbes of playing her meaty, if somewhat preposterous role:
It was fantastic! I understood her. To me, she wasn’t evil. She was motivated by things we don’t fully understand yet. Anne is a product of her life experiences and a true survivor at any cost and I was able to sympathize with her. I’ve never portrayed anyone like her. Every part of her plan is so meticulously calculated. She's diabolical and I love her.
Other familiar faces who pop up throughout the first season include Glee's Samantha Ware, Westworld's Louis Herthum, and Luke Cage's John Clarence Stewart.
What/If is currently streaming on Netflix.