It all starts out well for Compulsive Love. Really well. As you’re watching episode one the first thing you’ll notice is how beautiful the cinematography is. The show hits you with the kind of visual clout you won’t find anywhere on 4OD – beams of light shimmer through the trees illuminating attractive compositions. Trees sway in the wind. A dog barks. Some nutter is hitting a beat-up trash can with a baseball bat, whilst a young woman with a cast on her arm watches. The editing is the best kind; the kind you don’t notice. “What are you doing?”, I think. “What are you doing?”, says the woman. Whoa! Did she read my mind?
Director Kevan Tucker sent me the whole series to watch before it went live. Usually only really bad web-series get emailed but I think everything is about to change and Compulsive Love is the start of a new chapter in my life. So I put down the booze.
Back to the show, and our lead man seems to be hamming it up a little. His self pity routine isn’t as funny as I thought it would be. The woman in a cast tries to distract him, then bam! Spurred by the ring of a bell. He runs off down the road after a girl on a bike. “Oh shit!” she says. How does she keep doing that!
At this point things start to go a bit wrong; terrible music drifts in like a bad smell and lingers over the episode like a fart. The episode feels like it might turn to chopped liver. A weird blend of sketch like scenes are thrown together under the blanket of that music. I think it’s supposed to remind us we’re watching comedy. It’s the sort of child-like upbeat score that should never have been attached to this mature (content) series. In reality its distracting me from the brilliant camerawork, performances and cinematography.
The music stops. Aaron (Alex Anfanger) and Zoey (Laura Ramadei) are chatting on office time. They have a great rapport and the episode is back on track. I knew I liked this show and now I’m feeling it again. There’s just one failure I notice, and I see it through the whole series. There is a lot of great comedy here, don’t get me wrong but there are many more jokes setup that never come to pass properly. This means that the big comic payoffs you may anticipate never actually happen. They’re replaced with other funny (but still less funny) punchlines. In other words, the humour can often fall flat in the places it’s most needed. Episode one is thankfully the worst offender, dropping me like a stone. The ending didn’t come out of nowhere, but it juuuust misses the mark.
There are two great examples of easy punchlines not coming to pass in the first episode. Incase you haven’t watched it yet, make sure you have.
1) The episode begins with Zoey interrupting Aaron as he beats on a bin to vent his frustrations over a recently ended relationship. The episode ends with a circular return to bin violence. Zoey is comforting Aaron by the side of a road, then she tells him to go do his thing, and he does, but before the credits roll we see him take a swing at what is an already destroyed bin. The gag that’s been setup feels like one of anticipation; we already know what the outcome will look like so seeing our expectation about to come to pass is satisfying. Seeing one that’s already destroyed and looks like the other bin changes the joke entirely – was he destroying it before she arrived? If so, why not come full circle and show her discovering him again. Is it the same bin as before? If so, why is the same bin in a completely different place? Does he carry a bin around with him? It might sound like nitpicking, but it’s the episodes climax and the scene falls short for no understandable reason.
The second example in episode one is more central to the plot.
2) Aaron has “great sex” with the girl he’s just fallen in love with, describing it as “short but intense”. Later on, she confides in him that she’s decided to become a nun, and thanks him for helping her realise this. Everything is so well laid out that it only needs a small moment, a look or a line to seal the killer punchline but that moment never comes.
As the series progressed and I made my way from episode to episode I found myself enjoying the show more and more. Compulsive Love strikes an odd balance, it’s an offbeat and sometimes surreal “sort-of-sitcom”. It’s the result of a successful indiegogo campaign that secured funding at the end of last September. The plot is simple, fun and perhaps even elegant, offering an alternative take on the usual “dating ritual” comedy format by playfully pushing the theme as far as it’ll go. Our lead, the boyish, charming and tireless Aaron (Anfanger – Next Time on Lonny) is a loser of love, totally unable to maintain a relationship thanks to his uncanny ability to fall in love at first sight and then throw himself headfirst into what are clearly doomed relationships. He takes every breakup to heart but never wallows, and never learns – each episode we meet and ultimately say goodbye to a new girl, and so the cycle repeats.
The series is beyond competent, with fantastic lighting and sound capture. Director of photography Will Boisture composes beautiful scenes whilst Editor Tim O’Neill succeeds in being unnoticeable. The directing, acting and scripting itself is fast paced, making expert use of camerawork and editing to keep the energy high, even during the intentionally slow office scenes. The core cast is small but the performances from them and the many guest roles are near perfect, particularly Laura Ramadei as Aarons dry best friend/co-worker Zoey.
On top of all this, the show feels perfectly at home on the web, running between four and seven minutes an episode and using that time expertly. There’s nothing quite like it online – the closest I can come to describing the show is like Scrubs, but without a hospital – Compulsive Love may technically be a sitcom, but its lack of a central filming location, and its creeping surrealistic sketch comedy moments make it feel more distinct somehow.
With eight episodes due to release over the coming weeks, Compulsive Love is a definite must watch for die-hard web-series fans. I just can’t help but wonder who it’s audience will turn out to be. When it comes down to it, Compulsive Love isn’t actually about love. Those tuning in looking for something romantic will invariably be put off by the lack of it. Likewise, the comedy isn’t quite “College Humour” enough for the audience I feel it was intended for. In fact I think the name suggests this, and doesn’t seem likely to appeal to a young male audience. Hopefully strong word of mouth and some well targeted social media buzz will draw the crowds in because this is a worthwhile independent web series, and easily my pick of the week.