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Sitcom from an America That's Just Starting to Exist

Oct 25, 2011

Ira writes:

Jane Espenson's a very funny TV writer I admire. She wrote two of my favorite episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Superstar" and "I Was Made to Love You", and also wrote for The O.C., Firefly, Battlestar Galactica and Gilmore Girls. For a while she had a cheery blog full of practical tips and thoughts about how to write for television, including her theories on how to create funny dialogue, which was fascinating.

Anyway, she's just finished a new project. It's a sitcom, and it follows all the rules and conventions of any sitcom, except it's about a gay married couple. As she puts it: "Mad About You but with two guys." When she and her co-writer Brad Bell came up with the idea, they realized it's such an obvious concept for a series that if network TV had wanted to do it, they already would've. So instead of going around pitching the show, they made it on the cheap, with their own money, on the Internet. A sitcom veteran, Jeff Greenstein, who did about a million episodes of Will and Grace, directed.

They shot a 22-minute pilot, and split it into eleven two-minute videos, i.e., bite-sized enough to be appropriate for the web. The last bit of it just went up. It's called Husbands. The setup is decidedly old-school. Two fresh-faced guys named Brady and Cheeks get married on a drunken bender in Vegas, and then decide they'll try to make the marriage work, after briefly considering annulment:

Brady (who's a pro baseball player): Marriages can be annulled if you're too drunk to know what you're doing. My teammates do it all the time.

Cheeks: So that's why you're called The Dodgers!

Brady doesn't laugh.

Cheeks: Wrong time but it's comedy gold, trust me.

Brady: I'm not going to be the first gay divorce since the new law! We have to stay technically married for a while.

Cheeks: Straight people do this all the time! In fact, if we weren't gay, this would be a hackneyed premise.

Husbands is chock-a-block with the clever clever writing of a sitcom, delivered at the hurried pace of people trying to cram in as many jokes as humanly possible. Though if you're going to check out just one episode, make it the last one, number eleven, where it pivots from this rat-a-tat sitcom writing to a moment where Brady suggests to Cheeks "How about we stop talking, get into bed and find something else to do." And they do. They cuddle and there's a full-on, no kidding, romantic kiss. Which is somehow mindblowing in this sugar-coated, fun-for-the-family context. It is not the quick peck on the cheek that Cam and Mitchell finally got to in season two of Modern Family. Seeing a man sweetly kiss another man onscreen and not in some moodily-lit Sundance movie with an Important Statement To Make, but just another day in America's dumbest art form, the sitcom, feels new and amazing. And sure, now that I've looked it up on Google, I've learned of gay kisses on Glee and Will and Grace. It still feels new. It feels like you're peeking at a future – of TV, of America – that's just barely coming into existence.

Jane's hope is that some brave network – AMC? NBC? – will notice their little experiment and give them a budget larger than the cost of a Hyundai to blow people's minds on real TV. If they do it right, of course, they won't be blowing minds at all. They'll just be the New Normal.