My Gimpy Life might be remembered for it’s fantastic directing, solid writing, witty performances and slick editing. It might also be remembered for other reasons. Reasons that sound more like euphemisms – inspirational. Representational. Accessible. Diverse. I can imagine it going either way – and I’m not quite sure if that’s a shame or not. My Gimpy Life is a webseries about a young, aspiring actress named Teal (Teal Sherer). The show is noteworthy because it is one of the best produced and most watchable series to come out in years. It’s also noteworthy because the main character, Teal is disabled – and that’s funny. And inspirational. And representational. And diverse.
Diversity is a word that gets thrown around a lot in the world of the web series, and is it much surprise? The grassroots spirit of the independent show has in the last few years attracted and cultivated a massive counter cultural audience – people who are dissatisfied with television and its homogeneous programming. People who feel TV doesn’t speak out to, or represent them especially well.
This enormous demand for more “socially aware” programming has been met by a slew of capable and outspoken producers and artists looking for an outlet to share their unique worldviews, and in short time the web-series has grown beyond its 2005 era staple of ultraviolent animated flash cartoons and angry reviews and become a platform to serve up the kind of delicious and exotic dishes that TV simply isn’t capable or willing to. Like Sushi for your eyeballs. Yum.
This is a great introduction for My Gimpy Life – you see, in the shows second episode “Two Shades of Teal” our lead character Teal responds to a “diversity call” audition in the hopes of landing herself a role. There’s a meta-level commentary or perhaps just an accidental, funny little irony here that struck me without ever actually trying – Sherer is both in real life and in this show an aspiring actress in Hollywood and despite her superb acting talents and great comic timing, it’s clear there’s very little room for her on TV. The irony of course is we as an audience are made aware of this through an absolutely fantastic web-show that she doesn’t just feature in, but is actually the star of.
It’s a curious indicator of the expanding rift between television and web audiences – a rift that, in the long run TV won’t be on the winning side of… But you know that, that’s why you read ComedyTVisdead. For now I want to discuss My Gimpy Life in a little more detail.
Written by Gabe Uhr and directed by Sean Becker, My Gimpy Life hits you right out of the gate with its fantastic directing and performances. It’s no mystery why it won two of this years IAWTV Awards for those very things. Teal’s disability and personality are expertly established in the opening minute of the first episode with a punchy “morning routine” montage. The scene builds with a pacing that keeps it interesting. It makes good use of repetition, routine and familiarity to help knock down the societal barriers that exist around the sensitive subject of disability. This need to broach the subject as early as possible may seem obvious, but any lesser writer would have tackled it with far less skill to potentially disastrous and unfunny results. The scene finally culminates with an unexpectedly well timed payoff; after going to great lengths to unload her wheelchair from her car, Teal is distracted by a phonecall and unsupervised, her chair rolls away down a hill. Her face says it all, her response is perfect (“Shit!”) and just like that it’s okay to laugh. Teal might use a wheelchair, but she’s just like us. The tone of the rest of the series is set – and we haven’t even gotten to the titles yet.
As the series progresses it goes from strength to strength – the punchy directing and understated script provide tight and tidy comic beats that the cast knock down one after another, and the dialogue throughout is natural and engaging. Teal’s social circle are introduced in episode 2 and give the show a robust bedding for Teal to contrast against. Her fellow actress friends Amy (Amy Okuda) and Marissa (Marissa Cuevas) play off eachother with a perfect rapport – a parody of the Paris Hilton Hollywood socialite, they manage to talk in perfect sync with one another without ever taking their eyes off their phones. Teal’s roommate Brent (Brent Bradshaw) “a standup” is particularly good in his role as an awkward outside wheel – he lives and works in a similar sphere to Teal and her friends, but may as well be from another planet entirely. His lines and delivery are rooted in standup performance and lend the cast and the show itself a sense of balance and perspective – no matter how caught up in the Hollywood lifestyle Teal becomes, Brent is always there to say something… Irrelevant.
Utilizing its short format to the fullest, episodes each contribute towards part of a greater ongoing narrative, but are themselves standalone and complete – this seems largely in due to excellent directing by the format pioneering Sean Becker and the experience he brings to the table from his work on The Guild. That said, the show still features an intrusive title sequence that plays after the opening scene and has me reaching for the seek bar to skip ahead every episode. It’s totally inappropriate for a short form show that many viewers will likely marathon in a single session. The Actress Diaries and Squaresville got this right – it’s time for other shows to start taking note.
With a diverse cast and directing that continuously hits the mark, there are no obstacles in the way of the script, and as a result it really shines. The show makes the most of Sherer’s unique brand of upbeat pragmatism by putting her in increasingly awkward and frustrating situations and then squeezing them for every last drop of cringe inducing humour imaginable.
Teal’s wheelchair and peoples reactions to it (and her) understandably acts as the central point from which a lot of the comedy revolves – but this focus feels incidental. Situations like navigating packed restaurants, trying to get served at bars and having to turf an able bodied young woman who “likes the extra space” from a disabled toilet all act as starting points for simple, physical comedy that the writing builds upon and develops into larger, more satisfying jokes. The comedy flows and builds naturally thanks to a solid and well realised script and Sherer’s sense of comic timing and her emotional range are invigorating. Scenes that might otherwise fall flat get by on her charm – her characterisation as a mischievous and lovable misfit will have you constantly guessing how any given encounter is going to play out.
The series is only 5 episodes long, and ends with a tone of (ambiguous) finality. It’s a slick package, but it’s over too soon. Just like this review. Disappointing, I know! Think how I felt when the credits rolled on episode 5?
With no news of a second series … Yet, it remains to be seen when (or if) we’ll get to see more of Teals awkward and hilarious antics, though I suspect it won’t be long. I’m certain I’m not the one one asking…