The way we consume content is changing. The shift from watching live television to recording, binge watching, and streaming catch up or web exclusive shows has been monumental. In a few brief years the idea of who can, and should, create content has changed too. It used to be that you were anointed in some way, praised, and sent on your journey by the TV gods (mostly straight white men) who got to decide what did and didn’t constitute ‘good television’ and they dished out their money accordingly. It meant that, for the most part, the stories of minority groups were often overlooked in favour of more heteronormative programming. However, with the rise of the internet and the continuing advancements in technology that has all changed. Taking it upon yourself to get your voice heard has become the new normal. The idea of the ‘web series’ is now considered a lucrative step in the career of an artist, not only in terms of advancement, but also in terms of creative control. For example, Issa Rae’s YouTube show The Adventures of Awkward Black Girl got her noticed by HBO and she now writes and stars in the sensational Insecure or Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld’s Vimeo series High Maintenance, which also got picked up HBO. The internet is now a place that nurtures new and diverse voices.
The Gay and Wondrous Life of Caleb Gallo is an independent web series created, written by, and starring Brian Jordan Alvarez, that premiered in 2016 at the Tribeca Film Festival. It follows Caleb Gallo (Alvarez), a gay man living in Los Angeles trying to navigate monogamy and adulthood. He is joined by his friend Karen (Stephanie Koenig), the fast talking, open, and witty Grace to Caleb’s Will. In fact, Indiewire described the show as ‘Will and Grace on speed’ and that feels entirely accurate. Caleb and Karen are at the centre of the show as it begins, their dynamic is palpable, their exchanges are rapid back-and-fourths that makes each episdsodes fifteen to twenty-minute runtime feel like seconds (in a good way). Caleb and Karen are surrounded by a small group of L.A. wannabe actors that also includes Lenjamin (Ken Kirby) who decides he’s going to be bisexual in the first episode only to change his mind and call himself catholic instead, to Caleb’s adopted actor-turned-shaman sister Tatiana (Daniéle Watts) who acts as a flower girl at a wedding with her breast out.
The series examines sexuality and gender in a way no other show has done before. It’s characters float freely around the queer world. They inhabit various spaces and don’t feel required to explain themselves. They are a glimpse of the younger generation today, who have a strong understanding of the way gender and sexuality are constructed within society and don’t feel the need to conform to that. The confines that might be have been inflicted on the show, if it were produced by a major network, don’t bare thinking about, as the show throws aside labels and heteronormative practices. In their wake we see the lines blur, as a ‘straight’ guy, Billy (Jonathan Ebeling), whose ‘straightness’ is emphasised early on, sleeps with Karen then fools around with Caleb in the same day, and kisses Karen in the back of the car while reaching out for Caleb in the driver’s seat, declaring his love for them both. Or take, Benicio (Antonio Marziale), Caleb’s long distance, genderqueer, boyfriend who ignores the gender divide when it comes to clothing and looks fabulous while doing so. In episode four he descends the stairs to a waiting Caleb in a beautiful baby pink dress and the moment isn’t played as a reveal but merely understood and accepted.
Then last, but not least, there is Freckle (Jason Greene). Freckle is gender-fluid, fabulously dressed, and, following in the footsteps of Jack and Karen, as they steal every scene they’re in. Whether that be beckoning boys from the balcony of their apartment in a silk robe, to performing Selena’s I Could Fall in Love as they officiate a wedding, or spouting out quotable lines like ‘Sometimes things that are expensive are worse.’ Freckle feels like fresh air, and Greene’s portrayal is masterful. Greene told The Daily Dot, ‘I always want Freckle to be flawed, I always want Freckle to be experiencing life and vulnerable, and we all are. I don’t want a perfect character; that doesn’t challenge me as an artist. So much of this project and show I can’t even explain. Things just work, they just make sense. I look forward to what [Alvarez] gives me to do.’ And he does it well. It’s no wonder the comment sections under each episode often includes people calling out for a Freckle spin-off – which I would definitely watch.
Alvarez has created something entirely new and unique with this series. Its sitcom influences are clear and evident. It takes what Will and Grace, Seinfeld, and Friends did before it; a group of friends connecting with an audience through relatable humour as they live in the big city, but does so inclusively, which a lot of major TV shows didn’t do, and still don’t. The series also draws you in the way those shows did. The dynamic between the group is portrayed excellently through Alvarez’s sharp and well formed dialogue. You feel like you’re hanging out with these friends, as if you’re invited to every topless dance party. The Gay and Wondrous Life of Caleb Gallo feels like what comedy programming of the future could be like; inclusive, open, and downright hilarious. Here’s hoping for a season two.
Season One of The Gay and Wondrous Life of Caleb Gallo is available now on YouTube. You can watch episode One below.