A unique and personal take on the ‘New York apartment comedy’ genre
by Erik Urtz
via Snobby Robot Transmedia Magazine
Making a web series is an exercising in doing an awful lot with almost nothing. After watching enough of them it starts to get easy to notice the common tradeoffs producers are willing to make in order to get something in the can. Eventually these series start to naturally organize themselves into ‘production genres.’ Perhaps the most common of those genres is what I like to call the ‘New York apartment comedy’ which is what happens when you combine mostly out of work actors with New York City and a camera.
While it might be easy to say that if you’ve seen one ‘NYAC’ you’ve seen them all, these creative types that pop out these series are starting to notice and in turn they are finding ways to differentiate themselves from other members of their genre. Case in point is ‘[Blank] My Life,’ which follows young New York resident Susan, who is not an out of work actor, but rather an artist, whose life problems are the same as most struggling, mid twenties big city dwellers.
Where ‘[Blank] My Life’ finds its voice is at the script level which offers up something wholly earnest, inviting the viewer to laugh more as a coping mechanism than as a typical escape. Your typical comedy in the ‘NYAC’ genre tends to work in more traditional archetypes, with characters representing exaggerations of their real selves. Of course that often makes sense, with limited time and resources it is difficult to create nuanced characters, and giving characters over the top eccentricities is a tempting way to drive comedy.
‘[Blank] My Life’ forgoes virtually all of that in favor of embracing the awkward, the embarrassing, and the personal. Where others shows might obfuscate the realities of their inspiration with exaggeration, ‘[Blank] My Life’ embraces it, and shares it with the world.
A good example of the type of comedy found in [Blank], is the episode ‘Ending’ which finds Susan’s pseudo boyfriend breaking up with her after she makes him a really special relationship scrap book. The scene itself is really not funny at all. It’s completely awkward, and depressing, but you can’t help but laugh at the guy in the Santa suit crossing the line to get a donation from them. The episode is capped off when Susan gets into her Uber only to be told ‘get out of my car, I’m not an Uber driver!’ It’s an embarrassing moment that probably would’ve been her most embarrassing moment of the day were it not to take place in the midst of something far worse.
Striving to provide a little more substance might not go over well with some viewers. The occasional references to depression, suicide, or past tragedy is subtly heavy, and the show treats it more as a fact of life than as something to dwell on. While I was a fan of the way the show handles these topics, particularly with the owl who visits characters when they are feeling down, I imagine audiences might find them polarizing. Some will find it refreshing, while escapists would rather do without the references to hallucination inducing depression medication in their comedy.
In many ways rather than being a comedy per se the show is much more about sharing, how people share intimate details of their lives and how others react to those things. While just about every episode has an example of this, the strongest might be from the episode ‘Drinking Game.’
Truth or dare, and other drinking games like it are often seen as a safe way of opening up to other people in a group. Revelations may be shocking, or surprising but I think we all feel secure in the moment. While the show, up to this point in episode 5, had already revealed itself to be a little more serious than a comedy, “Drinking Game” provides the viewer with a fun scenario of truth or dare, drinking, and a going away party, that all lends itself to the expectation of high comedy.
When the question of regret and wrongdoing comes up one character reveals that, in the midst of a foolish argument, he hit his girlfriend in the face. It’s a revelation that pumps the breaks on the fun and turns the party into a bitter debate on just how everyone should feel about the revelation.
The act aside I couldn’t help but feel for this character, who so obviously struggles with the mistake he made and the questions it raises. Was he right to trust his friends with the knowledge? Was his seeming shunning from the group a betrayal of their friendship, or did he betray them with his act? The splintering in the group that results raises another question about loyalty. Who or what should we be loyal too, our group, our friends, our family, or our principles? Can one moment, and one poor choice define who we are and how we should be seen? The writing, and acting all take over here and are truly exceptional.
While I can safely say that [Blank] My Life is probably not for everyone, it is a testament to the value of web series as a medium. As a vehicle for telling personal stories the web is unsurpassed, and it is series like this one that make it so. Hopefully more creators will have the guts to put out deeply personal and nuanced work online even if it’s not something that is meant to appeal to a mass audience.