Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Viva La (Indie Soap) Revolution!

When I was growing up I loved watching soap operas. I was fascinated by seeing the adult characters tackle life's challenges and navigate their way realistically through emotional hardships. Watching Julie Williams or Kimberly Brady on DAYS OF OUR LIVES thrive, despite dealing with the worst situations life could possibly throw at them, fueled my inspiration and hope that I could do the same. The underlying but implicit message on all shows was: These people can survive in spite of their problems, and you can too.

But somewhere around fifteen years ago, daytime dramas lost their way. They focused less on the triumph of the human spirit, and more on mobsters, cartoon villains, baby switches, bombs, and weird weather patterns. It seemed they no longer had an interest in inspiring and educating their audience. In fact, one actress on a popular show around this time was told by her executive producer, "We're not in the business of helping people."

Fortunately, the Indie Soap Revolution is here, and they are picking up online where the television networks left off. By reviewing the nominees for the 1st Annual Indie Soap Awards, I have been entertained, enriched, and enthralled. Not since my childhood have I been so excited and inspired about the power and relevance of the continuing story format. Sure, I will always love the network soaps out of loyalty, tradition, and nostalgia. But I’m telling you readers here and now that my focus, passion, and devotion is now electrified on the web, and you will be hearing a lot more from me from now on about the new worlds turning out in cyber space.

Don’t believe me? Good! I challenge any doubters out there to watch any one of the nominees for Best Indie Soap and tell me that these shows aren't doing a tremendous job of presenting diversity, reality, hope, and inspiration. In alphabetical order, I invite you to enjoy:
[Note - press the title of the show below to watch episodes]

ANYONE BUT ME: 16-year-old Vivian's life is turned upside down when her single father must move from New York City to the suburbs, due to his declining health after being a first-response firefighter called to the Twin Towers on 9/11. Suddenly this out lesbian and her girlfriend must adjust to loss, separation, confusion, and culture shock. Rachael Hip-Flores as Vivian welcomes us into this heart wrenching predicament, and introduces us to a diverse ensemble of supporting characters who are struggling with their own conflicts. Not since MY-SO-CALLED-LIFE have I felt so enthralled and interested in the inner world of high school students.

BUPPIES: What starts off as a celebration amongst an affluent African-American community in Hollywood turns into a day of conflict, confessions, and confusion amongst friends. Tatyana Ali, formerly of THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL-AIR and YOUNG & THE RESTLESS, spearheads this superb and beautiful cast of characters, who each bring a new and different element into the mix. Each individual is struggling with conflicting values within himself or herself regarding identity, sexual orientation, career, relationships, and major life decisions. As the show progresses, we see more beneath the surface, and the underlying layers revealed will surprise and touch you.

CHICK: A desperate woman goes to extreme measures to get in touch with her inner strength and beauty, unaware she already has the power within herself that she is seeking. This is an emotionally naked and sometimes uncomfortable glimpse at a woman who tragically doesn’t comprehend that she already is the hero she wants to become. There are times watching this I wasn’t sure if I was meant to laugh or cry. Then I realized the intention was to make me do both, kinda like problems in my real life. Kai Soremekum as Lisa is brilliantly able to amuse and disturb, and this is the kind of intense raw performance you will not typically find on network television.

COMPULSIONS: A man tied to a chair is being beaten, battered, and electroshocked. By whom? Why? Such are the questions that are explored in the serial mystery thriller COMPULSIONS. Each of the eight episodes in Season One reveal a piece of the puzzle, and the viewer is slowly lured into this upside down world of violence, betrayal, and confusion. Along the way we get to know an eclectic cast of characters, including office-drone-turn-sadist Mark (Craig Frank), and computer-nerd-turn-voyeur Cassandra (AnneMarie Pazmino). By the end of Season One, I still didn’t know exactly what was going on, but I knew I had been taken on one hell of a dazzling journey to get there. And I can’t wait until Season Two takes me even farther.

DIARY OF A SINGLE MOM: If there was ever a sign that web series are the wave of the future, this would be it. This is a stunning and emotionally brilliant piece of story telling that is simply too realistic and beautiful to be shown on network television. This is exactly the type of inspiring drama that helped me as a child growing up, and now as an adult, to know that we humans can make it if we hang together. The story begins with Ocean (Monica Calhoun), a single mom, moving into an apartment building with (surprise!) two other single moms. On their own these single parent families are drowning. But when they pull together they learn they can grow, thrive, and ascend above the pain and hardships of daily life. Now don’t let this description lure you into believing this a warm and fuzzy women-holding-hands kind of show. There is plenty of anger, arguing, door slamming, and misunderstood communication to go around. But rarely does entertainment aspire to demonstrate the possibility of how interconnectedness transforms the spirit, and even more rarely does it do a good job of it. Under the eloquent writing of Cheryl L. West, the capable directing of Robert Townsend, and the amazing ensemble including Billie Dee Williams (ex-NIGHT SHIFT) and Janice Lynde (ex-OLTL), this program soars to dramatic levels not yet seen in cyber space. Until now.

HIGH RISE: The architecturally stunning Terminus Towers in Atlanta, Georgia, provides the setting for this deliciously juicy drama about a modern community living and working together, and often bumping heads. The first show begins with a glimpse of a violent assault, then quickly introduces us into the turbulent and conflicted relationship of Marcus (Rob Pralgo) and Elizabeth (Cynthia Evans). Through these two we are introduced into a group of friends where competition, betrayal, and struggle prevails, and where Shawn Mullins occasionally pops up to serenade the residents. Not since DALLAS have I seen a show so smoothly integrate friendship, greed, backstabbing business deals, and deceit. However, at the core of the show is a strong beating heart focusing on a group of adults trying to connect with each other while staying emotionally insulated, a fascinating quandary if ever there was one. Rumor has it (on its own website) that the show will be on FOX in early 2010. Here’s hoping it doesn’t lose it’s creative “high rise” as a result.

LUMINA: If a science fiction fantasy soap set on the streets of Hong Kong is more your speed, then LUMINA is the show for you. The title character Lumina, delicately and poetically played by JuJu Chan, is caught between her busy but alienated city life, and the fantastical and possibly fictional relationship that is offered to her literally through mirrors. What follows is an intricate and complex story involving dark and light realms, back alley deals, and a disembodied hand. How all these connect is still a mystery to me, but I must say visually and technically the experience of watching this show is mesmerizing and hypnotic.

I hope you enjoy these shows! And please let us know what you think about the Indie Soap Revolution. And don't miss the Indie Soap Awards on Monday at 9 p.m. ET.

1 comment:

  1. These are solme of my favorite shows. Especially Compulsions and Chick.

    I have to say you beautifully encapsulated how I feel about Chick and why I find it such a gripping show. Thanks.

    Here's hoping all these shows continue to thrive and continue to showcase the best of the future of indie television.