It’s a great pitch: A comedy about bulimia. It sells itself. So well, in fact, that more than one person had the idea. “When I saw ‘The Skinny,’ I had a meltdown,” Angela Gulner, creator and star of “Binge,” told IndieWire. “I was like: ‘My story has been told. There’s no room for it anymore.’ But then I calmed down a little bit.”
She realized that there was room for more than one eating disorder comedy. The success of Jessie Kahnweiler’s “The Skinny” (the web series premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was co-produced by Jill Soloway) did not mean the failure of “Binge.” Quite the opposite — it meant there was an audience for her story.
Not only that, but such a universal and pressing issue deserves more than one story. “There needs to be many voices. Especially with mental illness, we see such a narrow range portrayed,” said Gulner. “It’s important to see our own experiences reflected back at us onscreen. If we don’t have multiple voices working through the issues, that experience gets really cheapened.”
Gulner’s co-creator, Yuri Baranovsky, put it more bluntly: “If there can be three hundred ‘Law & Orders,’ there can be two shows about bulimia.”
Though they may sound similar on the surface, “Binge” is tonally very different from “The Skinny.” Kahnweiler’s protagonist — self-deprecating, desperate for sexual validation, and with a zany frenetic energy — is like a blend of Hannah Horvath of “Girls” and Ilana in “Broad City.” Gulner’s character is more accustomed to getting her way with men, using her sexuality to get what she wants like Carrie Mathison on “Homeland,” or to hide her addiction like “Nurse Jackie.” In fact, “Binge” could hold its own against any Showtime series.
In the pilot, released this week on YouTube, Gulner plays Angela, a pastry chef who wakes up in her car after a one-night-stand. When she agrees to sleep with a nerdy older guy again in exchange for a coffee mug bearing the words, “My Other Mug Is Your Mom,” we begin to get a sense of Angela’s sense of self worth. Turns out the ill-advised escapade wasn’t the only mistake she made in her altered state — she also checked herself into a bulimia treatment facility, and now they are calling to collect.
The pilot clips along at a breakneck pace and Angela is precisely the kind of charming train wreck that women too rarely get to play. “Stories about messy, disastrous women often get ignored, and mental illness has been oversimplified in the media,” said Gulner. All the more reason to make the pilot independently.
“I think the subject matter called for it,” said Baranovsky, who directed the pilot and has a supporting role. “I think there’s an audience for it, and hopefully the audience can bring the dollars.”
Baranovsky, who runs a digital production company, had the resources to shoot a basic pilot, so the duo called in some favors and shot it in five days. “We wanted to go out there and find the audience ourselves, instead of wait on this slow moving town to do it for us,” Gulner said.
Gulner holds an MFA in acting from the Harvard/American Repertory Theater’s conservatory program, and Baranovsky has been making digital video content for the last ten years with his company, Happy Little Guillotine Studios. The company mostly produces video content for brands; their biggest project to date, “Leap Year,” starring Eliza Dushku and Joshua Malina, premiered on Hulu but was funded by an insurance company, after which it sold to USA. The network has yet to do anything with it.
The duo took some promising meetings with the “Binge” script, but nothing materialized. “It’s hard to sell a story like this, because unfortunately Hollywood is still run by late 30s to early 40s white men, and their first reaction was often, ‘she’s really unlikeable,'” said Baranovsky. He also noted the difficulty of selling the script with Gulner as the lead, seeing as she was relatively unknown. (She has had small roles on “Silicon Valley” and “Glee”). Lastly, he said: “The subject matter is something people want to see, and I’d rather bypass what a buyer might do with it before we can get it out in front of people.”
Though it was discouraging to get shot down in meetings, Gulner was heartened by positive reactions to “Binge” from her fellow patients at the clinic. “It’s important for us to reach that specific niche audience and do something important for them, rather than appease the gatekeepers of the industry.”
Racking up 7,000 views in just three days, initial interest in the project is building. It’s difficult to predict whether it will be enough to sway a network, production company, or even a brand. Baranovksy is optimistic: “Honestly, we’re open to just about anything. We just want to tell the story.”