"We're here for Jane!" beamed one young couple at Sunday's Nerdist Writers Panel, and by Jane they were referring to Jane Espenson, a female David Milch and goddess among fanboys, revered for her producing and writing credits on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica and ABC's upcoming fairy tale series Once Upon a Time.
While it made sense, given Espenson's fervent following, to find her in the back of Meltdown Comics at a fan meet 'n greet, she arrived last night with a different type of series under her arm, one that her fans don't acquaint with her: a marriage equality gay web series entitled Husbands, inspired, co-written and starring YouTube sensation Cheeks, nee Brad Bell, a comedic artist with the aerobic rhythm of Sean Hayes and the punch and snap of Sandra Bernhard.
Husbands, as directed by Desperate Housewives impresario Jeff Greenstein, follows the situation comedy of a gay couple, Cheeks and Brady Kelly (Sean Hemeon), who wake up after a drunken stupor in Las Vegas to learn that they're legally married and decide to deal with it, moving in et al.
In tow, is their b.f.f. Haley, a Holly Golightly hot mess who "is threatened by their intimacy and eager to sabotage" per Greenstein with her sarcastic jabs about their living situation. Playing Haley is Alessandra Torresani, who in addition to the other prime Husbands creatives was in attendance at last night's panel led by Nerdist moderator Ben Blacker.
For those shaggy T-shirt guys hanging around in the Wonder Woman section of Meltdown, Torresani's presence turned out to be a wet dream come true as she has long been worshiped as the voluptuous Cylon prototype Zoe Graystone from the Battlestar Galactica cancelled spin-off Caprica.
Check out the teaser for Husbands below:
Prior to the panel, Espenson exhibited three of the two-minute Husbands webisodes, all of which possessed the top quality earmarks of a primetime TV sitcom, both in production value and zippy romcom sensibility. Essentially Husbands is the next evolution of Will & Grace, which Torresani warmly reminded me was "Hello?! 10 years ago!" As the Karen Walker, err straight gal, of Husbands, the series is a platform for Torresani to trade in her dramatic gravity, which many know from Caprica, for raunchy loony-ness. She's also a Cheeks sidekick seen here in his clip on Gay bullying.
"It's fresher, the jokes are current and it speaks to a younger generation," added Hemeon whose Brady is the affable Dick Van Dyke-like guy to Cheeks' fussbudget.
As Will & Grace, Six Feet Under and Glee have smartly progressed the portrayal of gays in primetime and broken down stereotypes, Husbands, looks like an appropriate advancement in the TV universe, particularly as it ups the sitcom game on the intricacies of gay relationships. So why not go straight to TV?
"We didn't want a network turning our sweet romantic comedy about two guys into a reality show about a sorority house," explained Cheeks, "We wanted to make a pilot presentation to show that the material wasn't controversial and possessed an audience who would energize it."
On Husbands as the next big step in gay sitcoms, Cheeks added, "I feel what we know from Will & Grace and Glee is the message of acceptance and tolerance, aka it's 'OK to be gay.' While a good message, it's so 15 years ago. Where's the show where the couple is gay, but that's not the problem?"
Husbands raises such domestic hijinks as where are Cheeks and Brady going to live? Will Cheeks make room in his sock drawer for Brady's stuff? With his fresh second-half being a major league baseball player, is Cheeks allowed to sit in the wives' section of the stadium? Does Cheeks really need to sacrifice the middle of the bed?
Espenson became exposed to Cheeks with his YouTube rant against Miss California, which blasted the state royal's anti-same sex marriage views. Amused, Espenson decided to nurture one of his projects.
"It feels like a departure for people who know my recent work, but I spent my first five years in Hollywood on sitcoms like Dinosaurs, Ellen and Andy Barker P.I.," exclaimed Espenson who has long missed churning out set-up and punch half hours.
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Foregoing the typical means of sponsorships associated with funding web series, Espenson bank rolled the two-weekend production from her own seed money without ever considering a TV network's financial shoulder. Despite any notion that gay pop entertainment can be easily produced, a stodgy glass ceiling remains.
"I knew right away that a network would say, 'Yeah, we're willing [to do this project] but not in the context of newlyweds,'" said Espenson. "If we went with a network, we would be taking orders because that's what you do at a network: You're there to help them sell ad time."
Husbands premieres tomorrow, Tuesday, Sept. 13, at 6:30 p.m. PST on Streamin' Garage.