In the wake of the tragic terrorist attacks of September 11th a small, obscure bureaucracy called the Department of Paranoia came into being. The DoP is tasked to think creatively and investigate wild conspiracies and other unexplained phenomena. The short-form digital series follows the work and lives of four agents based in the New York regional office of the DoP. The series is a pitch-dark satire placing a critical eye on American angst and hyper-vigilance against those considered “other” in the post-September 11th world.
Digital Series Premise and Tone
Department of Paranoia is set in current day New York City. In the DoP New York Field office four agents are responsible for investigating calls of suspicious activity. The agents’ role is to determine the validity of these reports and remain responsive to all conspiracy theories, no matter how outlandish.
The existence of the Department of Paranoia is the central farcical aspect of the story. DoP agents are depicted as real with real-world problems and do not see their work as absurd even while they sometimes have disdain for the people who call them. Other federal agencies, especially the FBI, look down on the DoP. They view the department and its agents as a joke and often refer cases they would otherwise dismiss, just to mess with the DoP’s agents.
Characters and Story Arcs
In the first season, we are introduced to the four agents of the DoP’s New York City office: Agent Frida Amezquita, mid-thirties, Type A, who grew up in a Dominican family in Washington Heights, and currently lives in the Bronx. She is in peak shape, mentally and physically. Amezquita is self-serious as she strives to always be the best amongst her peers. She views the DoP as a stepping-stone to something bigger—-like the FBI. Agent Michela Gurley, an African American woman in her mid-thirties, is the complete opposite of Amezquita. Gurley is laid back, has incredible improvisational skills, and is able to adapt as the situation requires. She is married to her partner Natalie, and lives in Brooklyn. Agent Tomas Daffodil is a forty-ish African American man. He often uses humor to diffuse tense situations. He generally goes with the flow to avoid conflict. He is also struggling with the aftermath of a failed marriage. Agent Tawfiq Sameer is in his early thirties. He is Muslim and is of South Asian extraction. Sameer does not trust government institutions or commercial ones. He goes to extremes to make sure that his digital footprint is non-existent. He encrypts all of his communication technology, and uses a flip phone. Like Agent Daffodil, Sameer lives in Queens.
In the first season we see the agents grapple with several cases, ranging from suspected ISIS militants being smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border in vending machines, to a torrent of phone calls from Connecticut residents who panic upon seeing black people in their neighborhood. The interpersonal relationships among the four main characters form the main throughline of the season. Agent Frida Amezquita has applied to the FBI, a secret she withholds from some of her colleagues and her supervisor. Agent Michela Gurley’s wife Natalie wants to start a family; Gurley, however, only wants a dog. Agent Tomas Daffodil is starting to date after his divorce is finalized. He uses an unusual form of therapy to seek support through the transition. Agent Tawfiq Sameer meets a woman in a Transhumanist Support Group who claims to be a time traveler. Occasionally, JBaab, the agents’ Washington, DC-based supervisor and part-time singer, visits to keep an eye on their work and tell stories of his adventures on the high seas.
The Department of Paranoia is a character-driven series; the first season builds the foundation of the four personalities of the department and how their personal and work lives intersect.