With the success of shows like “black-ish,” “The Carmichaels,” and Issa Rae’s “Insecure” hitting HBO next week, it seems networks are finally coming (back) around to the black sitcom. Taking note of the trend are YouTube Red and Buzzfeed, who have partnered to produce “Broke,” a new sitcom from creator Quinta Brunson about three millennial friends trying to make it in Los Angeles.
The premise may not be groundbreaking (especially for a web series), but the characters are. Brunson plays Miloh, a laidback aspiring writer who lives with her two best friends, Mo (Maurice Williams) and Paul (Paul Dupree), and there is no trace of sexual tension between the three characters — a notably refreshing absence.
A focus on relationships isn’t the only thing thankfully missing from “Broke”: It also manages to find humor without relying on black caricatures or stereotypes.
Though Miloh is the focal point, Mo and Paul are dorky, sensitive, eccentric, and charismatic all at once. Devoid of machismo posing, they would rather worry about interior decorating than their next sexual conquests (and both characters are straight). Who would have thought a little online comedy tucked away on YouTube Red would stage a quiet revolution by writing two black male characters who look nothing like the black men portrayed in the media, and everything like the black men you meet in real life?
“I like to humanize people and characters,” Brunson told IndieWire recently in a phone interview. “I like to show that everyone has, basically, the same feelings. No matter their situations, they have the same root thing that makes them human. I think about that a lot, especially when it comes to characters of ‘other,’ I call it — people of color or the minority.”
Brunson cut her teeth writing scripted and comedic content for Buzzfeed, before trying her hand at a longer narrative series with “Broke.” According to Brunson, relatability is a large factor in whether or not a short has viral potential: She applied that knowledge to “Broke,” and saw an immediate response to the early episodes. “Paul was a favorite character,” said Brunson. “People liked how easygoing he was. That made me feel that the show was more than my character, Miloh. It meant that we had room to play.”
Like many creators, the characters and situations in “Broke” are inspired by Brunson’s own life. While she is friends with Williams and Dupree in real life, the characters are based on two friends from Philadelphia with whom she moved to Los Angeles. “We wound up creating a family. We were out here with nothing but our wits and no money, and we really needed to support each other,” she said.
It was important to her that “Broke” show platonic friendship between women and men. “Where I come from, it’s definitely not the norm. My actual mother was constantly like, ‘you hang out with these boys a lot, I don’t understand it.'” (Her mother on the show says the same.)
YouTube Red is a perfect fit for the Buzzfeed writer, and “Broke” adds cache that the subscription service desperately needs, which has so far relied solely on YouTube stars for its original programming. A crossover with the Buzzfeed audience is smart for both platforms, and Brunson’s voice is more highbrow than the average YouTuber’s. “They’re growing, and we’re figuring out how to grow with them,” said the Buzzfeed creator. “I think YouTube speaks the same language as we do. We needed to look at new frontiers, and YouTube Red wanted to go there with us.”
“Broke” premiered on YouTube Red on September 28, with new episodes every Wednesday. The first episode is available for free, after that audiences must subscribe (there is a one month free trial).