What If is a series of what ifs, failing to inspire enough originality to make good of its premise, dragging things out unnecessarily and bogging down its run-time with uninspiring sub plots. With a main plot that takes far too long to kick into high gear across this near-10 hour journey, What If is a difficult one to recommend. Thankfully, Renée Zellweger is sublime in her role and commands the screen every time she’s lucky enough to take the limelight. Beyond these segments, there’s really not a lot else going for What If that hasn’t been done better or in a more polished manner elsewhere.
The story begins with an introduction to our happily married couple, Sean and Lisa. As they engage in a raunchy game of What If at a house party, asking if they’d ever cheat on their respective partners, Lisa and Sean seem very much in love and unwilling to break their bond. Unwilling that is, until a financial backer for Lisa’s startup project proves too good to pass up. With the willing consent of her husband, they enter a lucrative contract with the promise of big money in exchange for notorious investor Anne Montgomery sleeping with Sean for one night.
After an initially intriguing opening episode, the plot grinds to a halt as the trio of characters engage in a game of psychological warfare, all the while stringing along the mystery around what happened that fateful night as a secret. This really forms the core of the show and how much patience you’re prepared to give this one will wholly depend on how invested you are in the story. What If basically takes a four hour idea and stretches it to a little under 10, with a couple of romantic subplots involving uninteresting characters used to pad things out. The result is a show that could have been so much more but winds up being a bit of a let-down, especially given the premise.
Stylistically, the cinematography in What If is clumsy to say the least. The dialogue is woeful at times with exposition slapped in the middle of a scene feeling out of place and oddly jarring. The script feels uneven too, with scenes pulled too early or too late and a real lack of flow and consistency to a lot of the episodes. At one point early on Lisa remarks “This whole idea feels ripped out of a bad 90’s movie,” and despite this being a not-so-subtle reference to the film Indecent Proposal (which it shamelessly rips off), the whole series ironically stands by this motto for much of its run-time.
There will, of course, be those that love this show and really take to the soap opera melodrama but with so much choice in the thriller genre, What If doesn’t feel anywhere near as prestigious as it could be. Given the interesting premise, it all feels squandered in the midst of a lacklustre plot, a drawn out narrative and too many stylistic inconsistencies to look past. It’s worth sticking around for Renée Zellweger’s performance, but be prepared for a long, arduous ride to get to the good stuff. Whether you’ll make it that far though is another matter.