The idea of finding happiness in platonic friendship rather than romantic love isn’t exactly a new concept. But what makes “I Love Bekka & Lucy” feel fresh (and addictively fun) is that no matter how deeply series’ writer and director Rachael Holder deconstructs the argument, love never leaves the equation. You feel it in every scene, in complex, ever-evolving shades, and thus we learn along with Bekka and Lucy whether or not the proposed lifestyle would or wouldn’t work — for them and for the rest of us.
Everyone, at some point in their life, dreams of living the rest of their days with their best friend, free from the drama, frustrations, and various other forms of emotional turmoil associated with falling in love. Sometimes there’s even times when these desires coincide, and for a few precious months or years, domestic life is nothing but a comfort.
This is when we meet Bekka (Jessica Parker Kennedy) and Lucy (Tanisha Long). The two share a small house together, work at the same school (Bekka is a teacher and Lucy a counselor), and spend their days doing exactly what they want to do: Be it dancing in the living room, knitting in the front yard, or swimming after hours (or, technically, before hours) at the local pool, Bekka and Lucy seem to be living their best lives.
At one point, Bekka is even asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. “A teacher,” she says. When pushed, she says she’d rather be a professional masturbator, but the point remains: These two are doing just fine.
Or at least Bekka is. Lucy is a bit torn because she’s the one in love. Soon enough, within the 12-minute episodes screened at SXSW, love gets in the way of the friends’ perfect bubble, and dynamics slowly begin to shift. It starts when a new neighbor moves in, but the life-altering choice comes later, when Harry (Chris Smith) makes an unexpected move on Lucy’s birthday.
Harry serves as a good example for how the web series makes the relatable unique. On paper, Harry is a loser. He’s introduced talking to his mother on the phone, explaining to her that the plants she gave to him died because he simply didn’t water them. “I don’t know how to take care of plants,” Harry said, even though he proved otherwise just a second before by saying he didn’t water them. He’s unhappy with his job. He’s a cheap date — springing for a take-home birthday dinner — and he’s generally checked out of his relationship with Lucy.
But a combination of key lines and a nuanced turn by Smith imbues Harry with enough to earn our empathy, even though he probably doesn’t deserve it. He owns up to the mistakes he recognizes and is genuinely remorseful whenever he screws up. Moreover, he’s casually fun, which is attractive to Lucy and thus to us. They switch from goofy fun to mild boredom at the drop of a hat, always because Harry doesn’t recognize what he’s doing right.
This nuance is almost subverted by the other male character, Glen (Alexis Denisof). A new neighbor who’s a bit too forward with his attempts at friendship, Glen could have been cut out of a CBS sitcom and dropped into this web series but for his careful unveiling and Denisof’s earnest performance. He’s the blunt dose of nagging annoyances to Harry’s subtle infusion of natural charm. Together, they represent the outside forces threatening Bekka and Lucy’s domestic bliss: romantic love and life itself. (Life always finds a way).
Nearly as important as the characters is the way their story is told. Episodes of “I Love Bekka & Lucy” are about half the length of traditional comedies and, when binging, run together in a way befitting the ongoing, day-by-day narrative structure of the series. While absolutely serialized, the web series constructs such delightful scenes within the larger story arc I often forgot how long they’d been running and was surprised when new episode titles popped up in the bottom corner of the screen.
For the record, this is the kind of development screenwriting instructors try to enforce on their students: Learn how to write a scene, then learn how to write an act, and then move on to an entire story. In other words, you need to learn the small arcs before you can build them into a bigger one. The modern media landscape — for all its other flaws — only encourages this idea, allowing for Holder’s two-minute conversation-based videos to find a fandom online before she moved on to 12-minute episodes in the next level of her web series.
Given the talent on display as a writer and director — Holder has a strong eye for color and framing, with an even better ear for dialogue and pacing — I have no doubt she could thrive in longer episodic opportunities, but “I Love Bekka and Lucy” is an excellent conceptual fit for this format. The duo’s friendship should prove universally familiar, but it’s never cliched and rarely predictable. Bekka’s blunt honesty is juxtaposed by Lucy’s desire for manners (in public, at least), making for a duo easily identifiable to viewers.
Such an enticing balance of fresh ideas and accessible characters should only encourage open-mindedness when it comes to the series’ initial quandary: Could we be happier with only platonic love? I don’t dare to answer, but I’ll be quite curious to see what Bekka and Lucy uncover.
“I Love Bekka & Lucy” premiered at SXSW. Stage 13 will release the series digitally at a future date.