Wrecked and the freedom of independent TV

By on Nov 3, 2012 in In Production | 2 comments

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When my friend Liz Ellis asked me to spread the word about her new web series, Wrecked, I said I would be happy to. Not only because Liz is a fellow Hampshire College alum, and not just because she so-kindly donated her time as a college student to participate in a reading of my script, and not just because she’s a frequent reader and commenter of this here blog, but because she’s a writerly friend… and I will always support friends of mine, especially when they are fellow writers.

I thought I would watch the episodes, find nice things to say, and write a few words on the subject. But I was unprepared for the awesomeness that is Wrecked.

And now I feel I must kill Liz Ellis because she’s dangerously talented as a writer, a director, and — along with co-exec Charley Pope — a producer. Her actors are talented. Her editor, Nathianiel Buechler, is talented. Her colorist is talented. Even the designer of the main titles is mega-talented.

Liz Ellis, how should I describe thee? It seems reductive to call her “Lena Sorkin,” but her writing reminds me of both wordsmiths. She has the pace and comic timing of Sorkin with the incisive observations about our generation of Dunham. To be reductive: Sorkin-esque walk-and-talks + Girls + (Girls’ drinking)² – unseemly nudity and Brooklynite pretension + Louie’s humor through failure + Seattle’s picturesqueness and charm + more drinking = Wrecked.

Honey Toad Studio — a Bainbridge Island, Wash., operation run by Liz, Charley, and Nathaniel — describes the series best, so I won’t paraphrase. “Wrecked is a raunchy, honest comedy that follows Spencer, a young writer trying to pick up the pieces of her life in the aftermath of the decision that tore it apart. In the first season, she tries to focus her energy on finding a job while her best friend, Thomas, tries to get her to focus on finding a new boyfriend. Just because the show is funny does not mean that it ends well. It is not a redemption story, and it is not for children.”

My one quibble is that the word “comedy” isn’t flashing red and yellow in a 40-point font, preferably Comic Sans or Jokerman — because the series is very witty. (On fraternal relations: “I don’t buy that you have to be more loyal to someone just because the same people had sex to make you.”) Spencer and Thomas have repartee, to be sure, but many of the funniest moments occur when they converse while preoccupied with two dissonant tangents. (In the opener of the first episode, their conversation veers wildly from polar bears to Norwegians to redhead penises to hobos.)

The cast is perfect, especially the leads. Bhama Roget looks like Gillian Jacobs or Leslie Mann and has comic timing as good as either. Nearly as good is Sean Patrick Mulroy as Thomas, whose off-the-cuff one-liners and observations about  life and men are scene-stealers.

If you stop reading this post right now and start watching it, I won’t begrudge you for it.

Liz is a huge proponent of independent television and even maintains an insightful blog, which I wasn’t even aware of until now. (Thanks a lot, Liz!) She writes about the creation of “indie TV” with posts both logistical and theoretical. For example, she’ll interview a major web content producer in one post and write about on-set “craft services” in another.

She also name-drops Aaron Sorkin a lot, which I appreciate.

And you shouldn’t take “independent” to mean of a low production value. Sure, when I first heard the term, I was imagining videos shot on cell-phones on Saturdays when there’s nothing else to do. But one look at the glorious look of Wrecked in its beautiful high-def-ness — I’m such a sucker for HD — throws that misconception out the window and speaks to many, many hours of hard work for all involved.

I’ve always dreamed of pitching my “brilliant” ideas to network execs and being awarded a comfortably bland conference room in which my brilliant self and my brilliant/comradely writing staff can toss around ideas and churn out pages. But Liz makes a strong case for circumventing the typical network model, and I’m beginning to see the light.

“In the quest for ratings,” Liz writes in the Wrecked description, “broadcast companies have come to rely on narratives with broad appeal. Online-only content creators can speak directly to their audiences, creating a smaller, more devoted fanbase.”

And truer words were never spoke.

Along with releasing new episodes every Monday, Liz and her cronies at Honey Toad Studio are also running a Kickstarter campaign to fund a potential second season. I’ve already contributed — in my own modest way — because I’m feeling particularly zealous about this project… and also because I love it when my favorite shows get renewed.