Fresh off the heels of last year’s wildly successful and much talked about play, The TomKat Project, Brianna Baker and Brandon Paul Ogborn are teaming up again: this time for the stunning new web series, Young Couple. What makes this collaboration even more genius is the added presence of the indomitable Mike Malarkey. Together, Baker, Ogborn and Malarkey are an epic trifecta, a divine dream team, and every episode divulges just how incredible together they are.
Filmed in stunning black and white by cinematographer John Klein, Young Couple follows Nic and Chris as they embark on a new relationship together after their failed starter marriages. Unfortunately for them, right in the midst of their honeymoon phase, Nic’s ex-husband, Mike shows up unexpectedly. Mike’s presence proves as a catalyst for Nic, who comes to grips with the fact that she wants to be a “true artist”, much to the chagrin of Chris. Each episode is refreshing and unique as we follow Nic, Chris and Mike down the rabbit hole of modern love and life in Chicago.
The mix of Baker, Ogborn and Malarkey’s incredible acting and Klein’s stunning camera work lends a voyeuristic essence to the series. Anyone with an eye can see that the series is inspired by the cannon of Noah Baumbach and Louis CK, but at the same time, Young Couple is startlingly unique and provocative, and truly unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, or will see again. Read my interview with the cast below and be sure to watch Young Couple here, I promise you you won’t regret it.
Interview after the jump.
How did the idea of this series come to you?
MM: Brianna introduced Brandon and I, they had a general idea; they wanted to play a couple that would be shot in black and white. Together we kind of sculpted out this idea that Chris and Nic had each previously been married and this is their second go at it it wasn’t until a little later we threw Mike into the mix and it really kind of rocked their relationship in a strange and uncomfortable way.
BPO: I’d wanted to shoot something with Brianna since we’d first met a few summers ago, back stage at an SNL showcase. When I saw “Bede”, her solo show, it was clear she was a great actress and writer that could do both the fanciful and the grounded. The seedlings of the idea for this series were always to explore coupledom in a realistic way – we just didn’t know if it was going to be a short film or how it would live. We finally got a break from The TomKat Project in the summer, before we took it to New York, and that’s when we were like, “So are we going to do this or what?” That’s when we brought on Mike Malarkey as director, and the story was hashed out that both characters were married before and this was their second go at it. Mike’s character – her ex-husband/best friend/band mate came from pitching in the room and it just being too funny to not have him looming over the story at all times. He’s like the evil in a David Lynch movie, always present even when not on screen. It wasn’t until the actual writing process, (the three of us wrote individual episodes), that the real arc of the story came through. That is, we get the full scope of Nic, Chris and Mike through some broadly funny episodes and also in these meandering vignettes, some from their past, (like the “Shoe Stew” episode), some simply another character’s perspective of the same day, filling in the gaps as the story cascades to it’s finale.
BB: My answer is basically summed up in Brandon’s.
The cinematography you chose for this series is a very bold and elegant choice, what made you choose black and white?
BPO: Mike or Brianna will say this better than me, but I like the way it distills the performances and lives in it’s own memory. To sound really esoteric and d-baggy. But it truly does push something past a place of time, which in a way the series is about, these different comedic realities folding in on each other. Also sounds d-baggy. Okay, it doesn’t show blemishes.
BB: When I watch something in black and white, I feel differently about what I’m watching. It quiets a lot of distractions of what colors are in the frame of view, and really makes me focus on the people and what they are saying. We knew before we wrote it that it was going to be in black and white. There was a point after wrote it, but before we shot it, that Brandon and Mike wanted to change it to color. Our Cinematographer John Klein and myself were adamant that we couldn’t just go back and change it. It was written for black and white, John read it and imagined it in b/w and it wouldn’t be the same series if we just switched it over to color.
MM: John Klein was the cinematographer and he’s a master. He really brought the project to another level with his involvement. I think we all had different reasons for wanting black and white. Brandon and I actually briefly considered wanting to shoot it in color but got put in our place by Brianna and John. John shot the whole thing in-camera in black and white.
It was a group decision but my personal explanation for why I like black and white over color for certain projects is that color has intrinsic emotional information in it. I hope this doesn’t sound snobby…If I were to look at a photograph of a boy with a red balloon and then change the color of the balloon to pink or black or yellow I’d react differently to the picture with each color. We all react very strongly to color. If I see a black and white photograph the boy holding a balloon, I’ll focus more about what’s going on in that boy’s head. I hope that’s a useful example and I didn’t just embarrass myself.
The decision really was rooted in focusing on Nic and Chris’s relationship rather than the world around them.
Other than that John just brought a really excellent sense of composition to shots. We all had certain moments where we wanted specific shots and John brought those to life, other than that he really brought that cinematic quality himself.
Brianna, what sets this character Nic apart from the other characters you’ve played? What drew you to her?
BB: Nic is a very complex character. She is a woman who lacks a self-awareness. She doesn’t fully understand how her actions affect Chris (her husband). The complexity comes in because she really does mean well, and really does love Chris. She also really loves Mike (her ex), in a purely platonic way. I think Nic feels a safety with Mike. He knows the past her, the high school her, and the college her. When she sees him, she feels a bit centered in a world that she doesn’t quite have her footing in.
Nic is lost in her creative life, which trickles into her marriage. She doesn’t feel like she can solidify her plans for the future if she isn’t “fulfilled”- whatever that would mean. She is working a job that she refuses to really call her job, simply because it’s not how she would like to identify herself. Nic can be a pain in the ass, but I do love her, and understand her.
Brandon, what do you like most about playing Chris? What makes him a captivating character to you?
BPO: I really loved this character because he’s a heel and most things go over his head. There’s something fun about playing a guy who rarely says what he wants and keeps taking hit after hit. In some ways, I saw Chris as a kind of symbol of unexpressed Midwestern masculinity. The overachiever from the small town that went to find happiness in Chicago. But can’t see the texture of life beyond a set of goals like getting a promotion and buying property. He’s set on that image of strolling with his future children on Southport on a Saturday, even if they’re all miserable.
When you see him with his ex-wife, (the indelible Rachel Farmer), his reaction to her anger is like an awkward, wounded Gary Cooper. He hides everything to the point of self-sabotage. Like a lot of guys, I think he’s got this “wild man” that he’s locked away for fear of being a hillbilly, for fear of seeming impolite. You get glimpses of that through his sexuality and off-beat humor on the show, at times when he’ll use that as power. There’s a scene in the third episode, where a bartender, (played heartbreakingly good by Mel Forrest), offers him a night of no-strings-attached sex, something as an audience member, you nearly think will solve his problems. His reaction to her offer kind of sums up his destiny as a character.
Mike, your character is a catalyst for a lot of what happens through out the series, prodding Nic and Chris into uncomfortable circumstances, have you ever come across a character like Mike in reality? If so, what was that experience like?
MM: I’m not aware of a time when I’ve been a “Mike” to someone else’s relationship but I’ve certainly been in relationships where there’s been a “Mike”. It’s not uncommon that a significant other has an ex that they’re still friends with. Part of what makes him so scary is the ambiguity of his intentions. On top of that it’s hard to call him out because he’s so charming. It’s a little hard to tell whether he’s just a very close friend of Nic or if some sexual chemistry still remains between them. He clearly problem setting boundaries which is just so scary for Chris. On the flip side, part of the responsibility lies in Chris’s own politeness and lack of assertiveness. He really keeps his head down about how uncomfortable it makes him. Even when he confronts Nic, he seems careful to avoid bringing Mike’s name into the picture. In general, it can really backfire telling someone you don’t like one of their friends but it also can eat away at your sanity if that friend is always around and you don’t say anything.
The influences for Young Couple are broadly stated in the press release, and while I can see how this series would fit into the cannon you listed, at the same time I feel this series has a unique and refreshing otherness that makes comparisons to other projects, reductive. Do you hope to have this series picked up by FX, HBO or Showtime?
BPO: That’s incredibly sweet of you to say. They weren’t direct influences as much as types of things that made us laugh; namely, character-driven comedy with a heart. I love the apartness Young Couple has and that gets deeper and stronger as the episodes build. Having the show get picked up for redevelopment would be an amazing opportunity for all of us, but right now, the show is for the internet, that was it’s architecture. The most we can hope for is to find an audience that relates to the characters and the little world we made for them. They’re beautiful, sad, charming people so I wouldn’t rule out ever revisiting them again. I’d love to write a bottle episode for Mike and his mom, I’ll say that.
BB: When we state the influences of YC, at least for me, it’s simply to show that these projects inspired us before we started writing. I would never want someone to watch YC, and feel like they just saw something Jill Soloway (or anyone) wrote, you know? The reason we are drawn to all of these different movies and TV shows is because they have a unique voice that is very much of that writer/creator/director. We wanted to remind ourselves to be focused on creating our unique voice, and not worrying about if we had seen it done before. When I want to feel inspired, and like to watch or read things that awaken my brain. Before I wrote my solo show, I watched Grey Gardens (the documentary) for about 3 weeks straight. It was absolutely unrelated to my show, but I felt drawn, and for some reason inspired, by the insanity of Little Edie and Big Edie.
We wrote the series for the exact platform that it is on. It was never meant to be a series of 2-4 minute videos, a pilot, or a movie-though I’m sure it could be cut into all of those. And while we wouldn’t want to compromise the series in its current form, it would be fun to redevelop it for a different platform. If HBO, FX or Showtime approached us, I’m sure we’d all be open to conversations…and by that I mean we would be need medical attention from our multiple heart attacks.
MM: First and foremost we wanted this to be a web series for a number of reasons First of all, we just wanted to tell a good story with good characters. The beauty of a web series is that you can tell a story in 10 minutes if you want and then another story in 4 minutes. You can’t really do that on TV, you have to fill a 30 minute or 1 hour slot. Obviously none of us have professional experience in television but we’ve all written pilots and spec scripts so we know that struggle to keep your story in that time range.
As we said in the press release Drinking Buddies and Afternoon Delight were really big influences on the writing of this. They both have a really natural vibe to them. The way they’re written (well, Drinking Buddies was improvised) and performed. They had great storytelling and were really emotionally driven and that was attractive to us. We tried to bring a bit of that flavor and tension to what we were doing.
Last, there’s such a stigma with the term “web series”. Everyone groans if you say you’re working on one, even people who are working on one of their own. We really wanted to make this thing really polished, clean, and interesting. It’s not that there aren’t great web series but we just really wanted to play with the medium visually, story/character wise, even with the original score.
What can we look forward to with this series in the future?
MM: We’ve talked a little bit about what would happen with Nic, Chris, and Mike in the future and while we don’t have immediate plans to do anything I think we all enjoyed working together and would love to tell more story. It could also just be fun to do a Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight and just show up 10 years later to see where all these people are at.
BB: The series will be released weekly, sometimes with 2 episodes in a week. It’s funny, intense, and you’ll see some familiar Chicago faces throughout. We also might be doing a screening of the entire series in a theater in the near future.
Check out the first episode of Young Couple here…