What If stars Renée Zellweger – better known as our friendly neighbourhood Bridget Jones – in a role as polar opposite to Bridget Jones as ever could be written. Zellweger plays Anne Montgomery, a ruthless, aggressive, mysterious and scheming venture capitalist, who develops a seemingly unexplained interest in the struggling fledgling business of a young idealistic biotech scientist, , Lisa Ruiz-Donovan, and her bartender husband, Sean.
The story starts off on a seemingly predictable trajectory – ruthless billionaire offers obscene money to person-in-need in exchange for a night with their spouse. Very Indecent Proposal, or so one might think. Except the show is self-aware enough to address this in the very first episode:
“This whole idea was ripped right out of a bad 90s movie.”
“I thought that film was quite decent.”
However, Montgomery’s intentions are slowly revealed to be much more complicated than just a one night stand and her methods much more diabolical than the billionaire of the 90s movie (whose name, Gage, incidentally, is also the name of Montgomery’s always-one-step-behind arch rival in the show. Coincidence?)
Most of the show passes with an edge of your seat suspense about Montgomery’s next move and if her hapless victims will be able to anticipate it. In a war between the two hyper-intelligent women, many men – including Lisa’s loyal husband and Anne’s loyal Man Friday – are but pawns and agents. There is also a revelation of the dark past of almost every character in the show – Lisa, Lisa’s adopted family, Sean, Sean’s high school gang, Anne, Anne’s Man Friday. Basically, a happy childhood to this show is what body acceptance was to Bridget Jones – a thoroughly alien concept.
What drives Anne Montgomery to do everything she is doing remains unclear until the final moments of the show. And I bet the internet is full of arguments raging about what it was even after people watched the finale. But one thing is for certain – woman be good at what she does. And while you are rooting for the idealistic, moralistic, happy and cutesy love birds – Lisa and Sean – throughout the show, a part of you wants to get inside the psychopathic head of Anne and behold the giant game of chess life is to her.
My only peeve with the show is a distracting parallel story going on with Sean’s best friend and his wife. This parallel story is just as riveting with an equally loving couple, pitted against an equally scary villain. Sadly, it never actually converges with the main storyline, which basically means we watch two stories for the price of one, with some common characters between them. It is almost as if the second story was a whole other show whose Pilot episode never got approved and so the writers decided to squeeze it in their approved show anyway.
Back to the Anne-Lisa storylilne however, the show begins and ends with Anne giving a dictation into a voice recorder, about the role of fate in our lives, and the kind of people who believe in fate vs those who don’t. These recordings provide great insights into the way that messed-up genius mind of hers works, and I would pay good money to read her best-selling autobiography in the show titled “At Any Cost”. “At Any Cost” would also have made a possibly better title for this show, at any rate.
With double cross over double cross, this is a show for anyone who enjoys a good insight into human nature, and the best and worst that can come out of it. All of this is setup in the backdrop of the corporate world where mountaintop vineyard parties that you can only reach by helicopters are par for the course, and trust is considered the greatest possible human weakness.