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[This year, for the first time, Sundance has dedicated a special section to the episodic format, recognizing the variety of independent episodic short-form programming for online as well as traditional television. The Indie Episodic slate includes Steve James’ docuseries America to Me and six “programs,” featuring multiple shows.]
Indie Episodic Program 6, actually the first to premiere — on Tuesday, Jan, 23 — featured Leimert Park, from creators Mel Jones, Davita Scarlett and Kady Kamakaté, plus The Adulterers from creator-stars Tonya Glanz and Chris Roberti. Both Leimert Park and The Adulterers are probably, more technically, digital short-form series. Each aired multiple episodes between 5 and 10 minutes in length during the 98-minute program.
Air date: Jan 23, 2018
Easily the superior of the two, Leimert Park hails from MACRO Ventures and Homegrown Pictures and takes its name and attitude from the South Los Angeles residential neighborhood. Like a less insufferable, vastly more African-American Sex and the City, Leimert Park focuses on three women (Ashley Blaine Featherson, Asia’h Epperson, Ashli Haynes), all at different relationship stages, sharing a home together.
Written by Scarlett and directed by Jones, Leimert Park establishes its tone from its opening line, with Featherson’s Mickey observing, “What do you do when your vagina’s in a coma?” The answer, it turns out, has something to do with Yoni eggs and sets the mood for a proudly raunchy show that also touches on cybersex, sex toys and pegging. The men in their lives aren’t especially interesting, but Leimert Park has a well-cast lead trio of actresses likely to be unknowns — unless you remember Asia’h Epperson from her brief run on American Idol. It happens that I do remember Epperson, and I was pleased to see her again and pleased that her screen presence, probably more important than her voice in her time on Idol, remains intact.
There’s a tendency for digital shows to be light on sense of place, perhaps because of challenges involving permits and the cost of location shooting, so what really stands out about Leimert Park is that it showcases and flatters the title neighborhood superbly. A lot of it is shot outside, and there’s a real interest in the neighborhood’s architecture and artistic reputation. I especially liked the nod to real-life hip-hop open mic event Bananas, complete with an appearance by its real-life organizer, Verbs. So many Los Angeles enclaves are so over-represented on TV that the variation here really stood out. “Please don’t tell your friends about it. We don’t want them moving here,” Mickey says in voiceover. So maybe I shouldn’t be recommending the series? Too late.
If Leimert Park overcomes its very conventional trappings through the specificity of its characters and its location, The Adulterers almost prides itself on its vagary. Two characters, who may not even have names, meet at a nebulous job that’s all buzzwords and carry on an indoor affair in what may be New York City, all caught in the briefest of vignettes as they get to know each other, banter and worry that they may be falling in love.
Stars Glanz and Roberti also wrote and directed the series, which unfortunately leads with what is easily its worst episode, a bad mixture of contrived dialogue and inexplicable corporate name-dropping. With one exception, the vignettes don’t dwell on the fact that the pair’s relationship is adulterous, which feels like an attempt to be edgy as opposed to a purposeful way of approaching the characters. Does it make them bad people that they’re cheating? What would be so bad if they fell in love? Though why would it be good, either? Is there a commentary on modern marriage or romance that’s being attempted here? Is it intentional that they’re initially the blandest couple possible?
I don’t know the answers, but as the program moved into the later episodes, The Adulterers grew on me a little, probably because I think Glanz is really good and embodies the hope and confusion and disappointment of this relationship in a way that maybe Roberti doesn’t.
Leimert Park is a better and more polished show, but The Adulterers may be more experimental in terms of storytelling. It has very little incident, and so using the digital-short structure to simply capture stolen, fleeting moments is smart.
Director: Mel Jones
Screenwriter: Davita Scarlett
Creators: Mel Jones, Devita Scarlett, Kady Kamakate
Cast: Ashley Blaine Featherson, Asia’h Epperson, Ashli Haynes, Franz Latten, Wade Allain-Marcus, Ikenna Okoye
Creator/director/writer/stars: Tonya Glanz and Chris Roberti
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