Welcome to a very special edition of Web Series Royale, in which web series come to duke it out in a battle of talent and entertainment. This week we have not two, but three contenders entering the arena for their shot at internet glory. All three series center around the reoccurring episodes, neurotic experiences and unexpected humor that can derived from being a gay man in New York. And these series aren’t anything close to what your television told you kids (Queer as Folk and Will & Grace be damned!).
Each observe this experience from both a different vantage point which logically take place in different parts of the city. The range of the series inhabit spaces from the outer boroughs to the more obvious (read: completely obvious) Chelsea-centric landscape. Overall, however, each series in its own way attempts to articulate the lives of gay men that lie in that middle ground between baffling hate and the world where there’s The New Normal.
Starting out we have the neurotically inclined, comically charmed boys of It Gets Betterish a series that can bounce from irreverent fun to the endearing in a single bound. Hot on it’s heels is the too close to home, intimately modern (is it Girls for gays? IS IT BETTER THAN Girls?) The Outs. And, filling out the race, the Sex and the City treatment of the masculine In Between Men. So, just as Beyonce, Britney and Pink were to once battle in that Pepsi commercial, these titans will fight to the death! Or something.
It Gets Betterish
Eliot Glazer and Brent Sullivan get it, and on more than one level. The UCB personalities have created a series which is gay, without it being, well, all about the gay. Basically Glazer and Sullivan deliver on the promise that queer-minded shows have been pressing for years. You know, the whole we-want-to-show-real-people-living-real-lives and so on. And somehow they have done it while being totally absurd and lovingly offensive.
In the series both play fictional versions of themselves, channeling the hyper neurotic and messy. The flawed characterizations work perfectly. These men aren’t sex-obsessed, but they may be inclined to attend an orgy. They aren’t fabulous or fierce, but they will practice their repertoire the entire day before a karaoke outing. And they aren’t battling inequality by every breath like a HRC volunteer camped on the corner, but they will unleash their piece of mind on an offensive would be “Grace.” All the better, the series delivers in its absurd humor as well as in its thoughtful realities.
In the episode above Brent discovers a one-time sexual partner engaged in some not so safe sexual activity on a online video, and the pairs’ visit to a clinic for a HIV test is undoubtably hilarious. To find the humor in what is often a sensitive, intimate and terrifying experience, and to so boldly got for it is expert comedy. In the world of It Gets Betterish, everything is just as the title implies: There is something good beyond an often miserable adolescence, and it has it’s own complications. It’s where your sexuality doesn’t dictate your life; it is a matter of ridiculous fact.
You may at first shy away from Adam Goldman’s The Outs, due to its long running time (each episode is about twenty minutes give or take). Please don’t. If I could elect any show about gay men to materialize on cable television by way of Time Warner, this would be it. The series focuses on the messy dating, Grindr messaging, and job searching of a trio of twenty-something Brooklynites, Mitchell (played by Goldman, creator of the series), his very much separated ex-Jack, and his best friend, Oona.
Can we get Oona out of the way? It is so refreshing to see a straight female best friend who doesn’t want to make you projectile vomit. She isn’t codependent or needy, at least not in the way you’d expect her to be. She’s the antithesis to all those girls from freshman year who were searching for their gay bestie. Points for Sasha Winters, who plays the part and is all-the-round funny while also kind of sad. That’s something you could actually say for the entire series, which caters to small, personal moments as much as dramatic gags. The relationship between Jack and Mitchell could be easily, and realistically, one you’ve had before.
There is plenty of emotional damage that, like in real life, takes more than a few episodes to work through. The series real strength is serving you likable and flawed characters, and shifting your expectations the whole way. With that and the Brooklyn setting, it will undoubtedly be compared to Girls, but many times it may be more affecting than Hannah Horvath trying to literally have her cake and eat it too.
In Between Men
Where the other two series get it right, this one could be read as misfiring and getting it all wrong. In Between Men is cheesy in a way that you hope is intentional. The series is undeniably set in the Sex and the City mold, four professionals and their perceptive outlooks on love and life take Manhattan. There is a blatant knock of Mr. Big in the form of foreign businessman who sweeps the lead character off his feet.
Predictably, they are all very attractive, chiseled and smoldering. Predictably, they each have issues ranging from intimacy to confidence (the shy one is… KIND OF STOCKY?) that haven’t already been explored in series like Queer as Folk or the teen flick Sleep Over. However, it should be noted the production values are pretty high (with maybe the exception of the weird opening theme). After being prompted by a friend to check out the show to better “round out” this week, I doubted entertaining it. But the series does display a sharp contrast to the other two series.
In Between Men, a pun with which they really knock you over the head, is supposed to be about gay men who are “between” the stereotypes of the gay community and the straight community. These men are all about the masc in masculine, which they valiantly state over and over again in the series, border lining on homophobia. While it is true that gay men exist who do not fit the mold laid out by society, this series fails to tell their story in an entertaining or enjoyable fashion.
The Verdict: It’s honestly up in the air between It Gets Betterish and The Outs, both of which tell different stories in extremely different styles but accomplish illustrating the life of gay men in NYC so precisely (without face planting in the obvious pratfalls that In Between Men endures). In the end, send It Gets Betterish home with the gold for it’s commitment and sheer genius, The Outs with the honorable silver for its strong range and spirit, and … I am out of medals. Sorry ’bout it.