I have been hooked onto this brilliant web series that has taken the web by storm with its nuanced writing and honest representations. It is almost like watching a really good drama on TV, except that it is online. (Minus the over-the-top references that plague many dramas.)
The Outs is a seven-episode web drama about the trials and tribulations following a 20-something gay couple in Brooklyn that break up and try to find their footing, stay friendly and find love. This premise may seem oddly cheesy, simply because many a network drama has turned such a storyline into a schmooze fest of slapstick humour or over-dramatisation. Let’s not forget the cliched storylines and one-dimensional characters.
But with director Adam Goldman, the storyline ends up honest, evocative and simple yet breathtakingly powerful, with each beat and silence meaning more than just dead space. (I may be stretching this too far, but the gist is that the script means something more than just the typical.)
It is not difficult to find out why the series is compared to HBO drama Girls — besides the location and premise of friends falling in and out of relationships, the dialogue is witty and at times so brutally unsure that its “lost in crossroads” nature is refreshing just as the state of it is. However, The Outs champions honest representations of gay men, while Girls does something similar for women. (Storytelling on both dramas are very different, though.)
In societies where dramas feel compelled to represent the imagined spectrum and draw out the extremes in characters, The Outs and Girls speak to the people left behind by these representations. They are not overtly sexy, they don’t have their sanity together all the time and they certainly make bad choices. The honesty in admitting that is what makes both shows work so well.
The Outs’ gay storyline though, makes it difficult for networks to pick up in a time when most channels are still trying to pander to the bankable WeHo dollar (and all the stereotypes that might come from it). The Internet can be viewed as a catch-all for anything and everything, but it is also a space that accomodates and does not mandate. It is a medium that understands “the more, the better” — and those who go online and are not bound by the definitives of traditional media, understand this same premise.
While traditionalists bastardise the Internet day in and day out for its no-holds-barred approach, their boxed thinking is a big reason why they can never accept the Internet: because the Internet does not accept them.
The Internet is just a world without borders. The world essentially remains; only the stifling walls have been removed.
This situation is best suited though, not for the multitude of channels that exist in the States (where The Outs can still possibly be picked up), but for tiny Singapore. Yes, the country where there is only one network and cable channels here refuse to populate their programming with original content.
Granted, Okto’s night-time belt has made significant inroads with showing more well-edited and progressive local content. Lee Thean-Jeen’s “The Million Dollar Job” is a fine example of the ongoing Director’s Special project that is a long time coming and one that should continue.
It is surprising though, to note that local television has made very little progress of late. Shows like The Pupil and Code of Law elevated the status of television dramas here to a level that was of high calibre, but eventually there will be shows that try way too hard to impress and end up squeezing too much of a seemingly-good plot. Case-in-point: Point Of Entry and Le Bisellahause. (Also, the taste of Singaporean viewers elude me, since POE is a highly-viewed drama.)
I digress for a bit for an interesting counter-point: shows of seemingly lower quality did much better than dramas such as Fighting Spiders and The Pupil. I spoke to my sister’s boyfriend (just getting a quote here, so spare me the “this is not representative” argument) and he said that POE’s action scenes were more exciting than the verbose and “atas” standard of English in Code of Law. He found the latter boring. I pointed out how meek the action scenes in POE look like compared to big-budget action films and he did not see my point.
(My sister is still with him, if you were wondering.)
It seems painfully obvious that networks will not budge if viewers are still around and advertiser dollars are still being made. The relaxed restrictions of the web have paved the way for Get Social, a web drama by online portal xinmsn, to go further with the narrative. (Disclaimer: I used to work for xinmsn but was not involved in any part of the web drama.) Get Social is a daily month-long web series about misfits in a social media company. It is funny, it is witty and it panders to the tech-savvy generation who now call their computer and phone as their touchpoints.
There is much promise in the web programming front for users who feel that they are not represented on television. The mistake producers should avoid doing on the web is by making dramas with the pressures of networks in mind — no cheap shots, no lowest common denominator, no “this must be necessary even though it looks redundant” plotlines and segues.
Will Toggle work on this front? The new over-the-top service from MediaCorp charges viewers to watch its web content, including some great Toggle originals that were available free before its official launch — Style Etc. with Marcus AC being one of them and Judee Tan-hosted talkshow LOL being one in the pipeline. At a promotional rate of $8.24 per month, it is a tad more expensive than Hulu and Netflix plans. (Toggle’s original cost is $21.29 per month.) Preaching to an Internet generation so predisposed to getting content free, to suddenly pay up, may be pushing it too far.
Independents have a big market here to fulfill a demand for tightly-written web programming that goes beyond the staid vlog or how-to. H+: The Digital Series is one such example, although a tie-up with Warner made the deal happen. The Outs made it happen through fundraising. There may not be as much hope in crowd-funding here, but with the persistence on iTunes in Singapore, one thing is becoming clear: entertainment can no longer be free if it is to progress.
MediaCorp cannot alienate its dedicated fanbase (albeit one with questionable taste), but it can strive to be a mixture of more, rather than a selection of few. If it is losing in the acquisition front to cable channels, then the decision becomes clear: bold, fresh originals will carve a niche for the channel. Okto’s night-time belt can also be a strong contender in this department too, if it keeps upping the ante.
With lesser than one-quarter of Singapore watching English free-to-air (if minister Yaacob Ibrahim is quoting the figures right), it will still remain an uphill struggle though to lure the 80 percent away from laptops and cable. There is no better time for web dramas than now to push the envelope and represent those left out from the telly’s prime-time belt.
Watch the final episode of The Outs (theouts.tv) below: