At the beginning of the year, I took my first look at The Actress Diaries, a tantalising new webseries from Lisa Hughes (Writer/Producer/Director/Actress) and Kate Bateman (Producer/Actress). I covered the first episode when it launched, concluding that as far as difficult first episodes go, it set the tone just right and got things going well. With the whole series up in its entirety now, it’s time to check back and give some praise where its due, and harsh criticism where it (might) help.
The Actress Diaries is Kate Bateman and Lisa’s Hughes’ first foray into production, sort of. Hughes had previously shot a TV format 30 minute pilot of the show with a different cast and plot. Unhappy with the results, Lisa refined the script, retooled it for the web and re-shot, this time alongside Bateman. The extra time spent on script really shows, as it’s one of The Actress Diaries strongest points, feeling off-the-cuff-improvised, but not falling into any of the uncomfortable, cue-hunting awkwardness of some genuine(ly bad) improv comedy.
The premise is simple yet layered. Lisa and Kate are aspiring actresses who wait tables to support themselves until their big break. The brilliant twist is that their own success is limited by their strong belief that they already know what it takes to be successful. Rather than following a typical sitcom format and narrative, each episode begins with the pair (tucked away in a booth at work) filming themselves as if they’re making a video blog, as they present a ‘how-to’ show packed full of audition winning tips. It’s a great setup, because it implies so much beyond the frame. The rest of each episode is made up of sketch style cutaways of the two young actresses as they actually audition. These segments make up the meat of the show and are where most of the comedy lies; the juxtaposition between the advice we’re given and the total ineptitude seen on screen. It creates a wealth of comic opportunity that the show attempts to capitalise on.
The series often does what it does excellently, though sadly by episode three things become a little stretched – probably due to a very limited budget. The camerawork, acting, sound and editing remain good, but as we see the same interviewers and sets week in, week out it becomes apparent that much of the show was shot in one swoop and sliced into multiple episodes. Likewise, as the episodes go on, lead Lisa and Kate’s auditioning failures seem more and more contrived and less and less understandable. By the midpoint of the series, the somewhat solid logic of the first few episodes is bent to breaking point when characters act like complete fools with little to no explanation. It could be that Hughes hit a premature brick wall with the script when faced with the challenge of keeping the series feeling fresh while wanting to change very little about the setup which undeniably works.
It’s a testament to The Actress Diaries overall quality that these flaws don’t change our fondness for the series – instead they only dilute an untapped, unquantifiable potential that the series has. Everything about the concept remains strong. The show is instantly familiar and yet totally original. Probably because of just how likeable the lead character are, in particular, Kate Bateman’s acting is superb. Her ability to sell her characters naive, innocent dimwittedness with just a look, a vacancy in the eyes is remarkable to behold. Her in-the-background audition dancing is one of my web-series comedy highlights of the year so far. Her subtle cues are behind some of the shows most memorable jokes.