The Show: Shut Eye
The Network: Hulu
The Gist: Shut Eye is a drama about a group of con artists working as storefront psychics, from two of the producers behind Breaking Bad.
The Psychic: Nancy Stark
Specialty: Tarot card readings; palm readings; astrology readings
Works At: Legendary New York City bistro Raoul's, where she's been giving readings for 26 years.
At Home With a Psychic
I'm nervous when I arrive at the loft apartment Nancy Stark shares with her husband Barry in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood. See, Nancy works as a psychic: she reads Tarot cards at Raoul's, one of the most beloved restaurants in downtown Manhattan. And we're about to sit down and watch Shut Eye, a new show about con artists who specialize in ripping people off using, you guessed it: Tarot cards.
"People tell me that I'm psychic," Stark says. "I don't own that. But I see possibilities. The most important thing is to have a lot of life experience."
Lucky for me, Stark has a healthy dose of self-awareness and an excellent sense of humor. "For some reason, people always believed in me," Stark says. "I have no idea why." She doesn't self-identify as a psychic. "People tell me that I'm psychic," Stark says. "I don't own that. But I see possibilities. And the most important thing is to have a lot of life experience."
She gives me a tour of the place, pointing out their lofted bedroom, Barry's paintings on the walls, and the crystal chandelier over the dining room table. We circle back to the living room, I take my laptop and bluetooth speaker out of my bag, and we sit down to watch the show.
Time to Meet the Fake Psychics
The show opens with a fast-cut montage of its main character, self-proclaimed psychic Charlie Haverford (Jeffrey Donovan) duping a series of clients in his parlor.
Nancy: This is very dangerous, what they're doing.
Me: This seems awful. Are there really psychics out there like this?
Nancy: Of course, of course. As a matter of fact, a friend of mine went to a reader who said to her, "Oh, you have tremendous bad karma around you. Give me $500 and I'll do a ceremony to take it away." She was so fearful, she gave her the $500. My friend's husband found out, went back to the reader, and threatened to call the police. He got the money back.
What Can a Psychic Really See?
On screen, Haverford ends a session with one of his clients by telling her that her boyfriend is cheating on her. "It's what the cards tell us," he says.
Me: Are you ever as certain about readings as these people seem to be?
Nancy: Most of the time, I'm not 100% sold simply because I feel like we have a great deal of free will, and therefore we can influence the possibilities and how we're going to deal with events in our life. And also, my attitude is: empower people. This person is taking their power away: 'I know everything,' 'I can change your life.' It's totally unrealistic.
"It's important to be ethical. Otherwise your karma is really shit, and you don't want to deal with that." —Nancy Stark
See, when he says "I'll see you same time next week," he's making her dependent on him! When people ask me if they should come back next week, I say, "Only come back if you need to, if you cannot decide something or understand something." It's important to be ethical. Otherwise your karma is really shit, and you don't want to deal with that.
We see Charlie's wife, Linda (KaDee Strickland), at a wedding, where she's working as a magician. She meets a wealthy woman and sells her on Charlie's psychic "powers." Nancy's unsure of it all. We pause a moment to discuss.
Me: What do you make of it so far?
Nancy: I think there are people like this, who go for the money… But this [show] isn't very nice, because there are different kinds of people in every field.
Me: Yeah, there are con artists in every field, for sure.
Nancy: Yes. Like in politics, for example? I need not say more.
"I'm not interested in drama, or in having my heart torn out. Ugh, who cares! I just want to enjoy my life!" —Nancy Stark
Me: I normally like shows about con artists. Do you?
Nancy: Hm… no.
Me: OK. So, we're off to a bad start.
Nancy: I'm not interested in drama, or in having my heart torn out. Ugh, who cares! I just want to enjoy my life! I like crime stories because they're like puzzles. Especially the old ones with Inspector Poirot—the Agatha Christie stuff—because it was playful, too. I love that era around the '20s. I feel like I had a lifetime around there. I must have.
I realize my computer's about to die, so Nancy points me to the nearest outlet. I ask her if she's ever felt part of a psychic community herself. She tells me about a clairvoyant she met at a psychic fair shortly after she started working at Raoul's.
Nancy: We were friends, we knew each other for years, until she died. People always die around me.
Me: I'm sorry.
"I realized she was so lost in her privilege of being a psychic that, without her knowing, she made up things." —Nancy Stark
Nancy: Don't be sorry, I think it's a release. I don't think it's a bad thing. She was a very open and joyful person. It was fun to be around her…. But I realized she was so lost in her privilege of being a psychic that, without her knowing, she made up things. It was ego. Her intention was good, but in the spiritual path, you cannot get lost in these little side roads like levitating, or seeing into the future, or going into different dimensions—which could be real.
Introduction of Fonzo, Head of the Psychic Ring
Here, Fonzo is deciding how to punish Charlie's sister, who's broken some kind of L.A. psychic protocol.
Nancy: He's like a pimp! Good acting. Really good acting.
Me: So… How are we doing so far?
Nancy: Good! Having fun!
Psychics vs. Hypnotists
Linda sets about intimidating a hypnotist named Gina (Emmanuelle Chriqui). She burns a cigarette into her thigh.
Me: Oh, no! Really?
Nancy [laughing]: You're so involved!
Me: See, I'm a sucker—if there's a plot, I want to get into it.
Nancy: That's funny because I don't want to get into a plot. I'd rather be the witness. But that's what you learn in meditation: to be the witness.
Me: As opposed to…
Nancy: Getting involved emotionally, getting sucked in.
Me: Whether it's a real-life scenario or a show?
Nancy: I think people are going to like it! It's got a good plot. It starts out very flimsy, but it really builds up. I think it's good, at least for a story.
Me: I was paranoid coming over, because I had a feeling it was going to be weird watching a bunch of con artists working as psychics.
Nancy: I understand, sure.
Me: But...you had fun?
Nancy: Yeah, I had fun!
Me: Me, too!
Nancy: But this is not the—well, it is the reality of the business, but it's not the reality of psychics. If somebody is truly a psychic, they would be not so pushy, and not so conniving. Although, there are a lot of psychics who are also conniving.
Me: It's a big world.