DANNY is eight going on thirty-eight – and he and his family are back in Texas after living in Cairo – where his Jewish dad has been using his good looks and wily ways to sell arms to the Palestinians. It’s 1972. Israel and Egypt are still at war. Danny has gender issues and he creates Diana Ross-inspired pop musical fantasies that involve his absent mom. Plus, he has a bit of a not entirely innocent crush on an adult Muslim man back in Egypt.

Based on true tales of creator Samuel Bernstein’s mondo-beyondo childhood, with a bipolar, explosive (yet charming) dad, a teenaged step-mom, two brothers with a mysterious origin story, and the rather mythical mother that he is never allowed to live with, and rarely allowed to see.

Danny sees himself as a Texas Slave, a Vegas Runaway, a Jewish Man-child in Egypt, a Jamaican Mama’s Boy, a Kidnap Victim, and, a potential Homicidal Maniac. He brings a resourceful sense of feeling and fantasy to every situation, like an emotional MacGyver—no makeshift rigged tools—but plenty of ideas for making human contact.

Mostly we're in Texas—Austin, San Antonio, and a series of ranches in the Hill Country area. There's a digital foray to Egypt in the pilot, and a few episodes set in Las Vegas. In later seasons, possibilities include Hawaii, Jamaica, Japan, Mexico, New York, and Los Angeles.

Danny’s father, IVAN, is a self-proclaimed Socialist who keeps the family flying first class by stealing—from his own family, from distant relatives, or the unwary well-to-do elderly, and always from American Express. He’s basically the Smartest Person in the World. He’ll tell you so himself. The recent backstory is that after his divorce from Danny’s mother LINDA, he took Danny, plus his older brothers JEFF (age 12) and JAKE (age 11)—though Ivan may or may not actually have custody.

The three boys live a nomadic life with Ivan and his new wife, MEG (age 19), whose pigtails and braces manage to seem kind of sexy. Ivan supports various left wing causes (including the Palestinians), espousing Socialism and individual resistance while sometimes living the luxurious, narcissistic life of a louche tyrant, and other times, when cash-poor, living with his own parents, LENNY and HELEN. They’re long-married, rich, perpetually at war, and wildly inappropriate in terms of what they will reveal in front of their grandchildren.

Danny longs passionately to escape Ivan and return to his mother—devising various paths to freedom that never quite work out. For his part, Ivan wants passionately to convince Danny that he is better off with him, absorbing his wisdom. Never mind that they don’t see eye-to-eye, they aren’t even looking at the same universe.

A practiced chameleon, Danny blends into the colorful worlds in which he finds himself on their adventures. The family spends a month in Vegas at Caesar’s Palace while Ivan loses hundreds of thousands (that he never actually pays); There are flashbacks to their time in Egypt; Danny charms cops, emulates his Elaine Stritch-like grandmother, and tries to stage a fake suicide attempt in the hope of guilt-tripping his dad into letting him live with his mother.

The thing about Danny’s journey, though, is that while his circumstances could seem stark and hopeless, he builds an extended support system for himself, and somehow thrives, finding love, fantasy, and creative ways of getting by. Will he ever get to live with his mother? Will he and his father survive without one of them killing the other? Will his fantasy world sustain him? Will his budding sexuality get someone arrested?

The show has its surreal elements at times, yet it’s absolutely set in the real world. You get the sense of a fully created universe, it always comes back to the reality of this fractured family, its deeply flawed characters, and their outlaw adventures.Danny is not the only one living inside his own fantasies though. In a lot of ways, Ivan is every bit as creative about how he seems himself in the world. He fancies himself a hard realist—but the truth is, he also feeds on fantasy and his own imagination.

This duality between Danny and Ivan—their profound differences coupled with their sometimes surprising similarities—is one of the emotional engine of the show.The other driving force is Danny’s search for a mother figure. People come in and out of his life. Danny looks to those outside the family circle for friendship, affection, and possible escape. Ivan also looks to others for support—financially, emotionally, and philosophically. It isn’t enough for Ivan to believe he’s right. The people he encounters must believe it too.

This is a family where the inner and outer lives of the parents and kids are colliding—forcing them to lead double lives. Tragic? Sad? Not necessarily. It’s true that Danny is the child of a family awash in physical and emotional abuse, ill-gotten gains, unfulfilled promise, and a dangerously criminal mindset. Just like your family, right? But living a double life can be a blast for a kid, whatever the circumstances—allowing Danny to veer between fantasy and reality with a sense of mischief and even glee. That childlike sense of fun keeps the show firmly out of the world of self-pity and soap opera.

After all, if an eight-year-old can laugh at the chaos, you can too. Though you might feel a little guilty about it afterwards—since you’re basically laughing at child abuse. © 2017