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Beyond 'Orange Is The New Black': The Summer of the Lesbian Web Series

By Aymar Jean Christian | Indiewire September 19, 2013 at 12:39PM

This summer I was on my way to see a friend’s band when Regina Spektor’s voice pierced my ears. It was coming from a ground-floor flat: “Yooouu’ve got tiiiiiiiiiime!” "Orange Is New Black," via title credits, leapt from my laptop to my city street. I’ve never heard a web series broadcast so publicly. Netflix’s drama has touched a nerve, no doubt. It’s sparked some discussion about women in prison, and the racist injustices, if not the operations, of the prison industrial complex. But more than anything else its popularity demonstrates widespread desire for television dramas about people other than white, straight men (they’re not all "Breaking Bad").
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"Little Horribles"
"Little Horribles"

This summer I was on my way to see a friend’s band when Regina Spektor’s voice pierced my ears. It was coming from a ground-floor flat: “Yooouu’ve got tiiiiiiiiiime!” "Orange Is New Black," via title credits, leapt from my laptop to my city street.

I’ve never heard a web series broadcast so publicly. Netflix’s drama has touched a nerve, no doubt. It’s sparked some discussion about women in prison, and the racist injustices, if not the operations, of the prison industrial complex. But more than anything else its popularity demonstrates widespread desire for television dramas about people other than white, straight men (they’re not all "Breaking Bad").

But while "Orange Is The New Black" is significant, it wasn’t the only web series about queer women this summer. There's been a steady release of indies in comedy, drama and even horror featuring love between ladies.

It’s not surprising. Web series succeed when they do something different from or better than television. Lesbian and queer women have always had a place in the indie TV market, where their stories aren’t warped by network development. "Anyone But Me" was an indie breakout at a time when Hollywood writers were praying audiences would watch scripted shows independent of TV networks (the show grew out of the 2007-2008 strike and later won a Writers Guild Award). Low-budget shows like the black melodrama "The Lovers and Friends Show," Brooklyn comedy "The Slope" and cartoon "Lizzy the Lezzy" amassed tens of thousands of fans through blogs and word of mouth.

There are now plenty of good-to-great romantic comedies, buddy sitcoms, soap operas, and even horror web series. Exciting projects are in the pipeline: Anyone But Me’s writer/director Tina Cesa Ward will release a drama, "Producing Juliet," set in New York’s theater world this month; One More Lesbian’s tello released a solid teaser for "The N&N: Files," a police procedural based on an unaired pilot at UPN; in July comedians Beth Lisick and Tara Jepsen kickstarted $30,000 for "Rods and Cones," based on their “Carole and Mitzi” act, guest-starring artists Jibz Cameron and Erin Markey; and there’s always hope Lena Waithe’s "Twenties," a comedy about a young black woman in love with a straight girl, will find a buyer. 

Below is a closer look at nine series about queer women worth putting in a playlist now.

The Critical Darlings

The art-house crowns this year belong to "F to 7th," from "Slope" co-creator Ingrid Jungermann, and "Little Horribles," created by and starring newcomer Amy York Rubin. F to 7th concluded its first season in the spring with one of the queerest episodes of a web series I’ve seen to date:

"F to 7th," “Intersex”: 

F to 7th - Episode 8 - Intersex from F to 7th Web Series on Vimeo.

The premise of "Little Horribles" is simple: it follows the failures of Amy, a “self-indulgent lesbian.” The show works because it’s scaled for the medium. Rubin never set out to write a web series, but she was inspired by life’s minor humiliations. The fifth episode, “Stunning” is a good example:

"Little Horribles," “Stunning”:

“I’d had one or two experiences like that, and it was really upsetting,” Rubin said during an interview at Vidcon this year. “I remember relaying this story to my mom and my sister and they were, like, laughing hysterically…I realized I could tell these stories that were really emotional but also entertaining and funny without cheapening it into a joke.”

That kind of small, intimate humor is au courant these days on television, even though it’s ideally suited to the rule-free space of YouTube. Rubin drew inspiration from the women who came before her -- including executive producer Issa Rae and Broad City, whose co-creator Ilana Glazer guest stars.   

“I’m experimenting,” she said. “I really believe there is an audience for this stuff. I wanted to watch stuff like this. I wanted to watch what Issa was making or Broad City. I think those people are there,” she said.

This article is related to: Television, TV Features, web series, Queer Cinema, Women's issues






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