Nightclubbing is a rich source of comedic value. It’s a part of life where unlikely events, bizarre conversations and the very dregs of society come together in a wonderful, beer-sodden melting pot. The exaggerated nature of a lot of comedy is a perfect fit for this setting (for example one of the best moments of the classic sitcom Spaced was the nightclub episode). It is pretty surprising, then, that new web series The Ladies and The Gents completely fails to make good use of this material.
Based around 40 short vignettes, each set in either the gents or the ladies loos, this show attempts to showcase the weird and neurotic clientele of an anonymous LA nightclub. The only recurring characters are two silent bathroom attendants, casting what I assume is supposed to be a wry eye over the events unfolding around them (more on this later). Currently sitting on around 150-1000 views per video, the show appears to have been starting to develop a small audience over the last month.
The actors they bring in for each 1 or 2 minute are usually competent enough, but a good deal of over-acting, and occasionally sub-community theatre hamming sneaks in. However, those of you who have read my reviews before know that I will tell anyone who’ll listen that even the best acting cannot make up for bad writing. And there is bad writing aplenty. Seemingly at a loss for what to make of the setting they have given themselves, the writers of The Ladies and The Gents resort to lazy stereotypes and limp references to current tech trends. In particular the first ladies’ episode “Tweeting Gals” seems to be based on the rather strange idea that the fact that people use twitter a lot is inherently funny. Another episode, perhaps a little more imaginative shows a couple of guys arguing over who gets to be mayor of the bar’s bathroom on foursquare – which had a little more promise, but soon descends into a directionless exchange of flat politics-related jokes. Basically this is lazy comedy writing – look at new technology trend X, work out what it’s for, parrot what you’ve heard about it and hope comedy comes out the other end.
There’s a similar tactic being used in the episode “Happy Hour 2.0″ which features a parody of the etsy-obsessed hipsterish women who seem to want to develop empires across all known blogging platforms. Again, this may have had some potential as a premise, but it is done in the most 2-dimensional, uninformed way possible. Parodying a particular archetype is fine, but you have to do it with a new twist, give it a human side to make it believable or at least compelling, otherwise you’re just at the level of your average internet meme. The Ladies and The Gents rarely humanises it’s characters and as a result many of the sketches are dull and even mean-spirited. Other sketches simply start with a decent idea and completely fail to realise it. Like the episode “Growing Up” about a rich kid who’s just been promoted up to management – could have been a funny exploration of youth versus responsibility versus wealthy entitlement – and all it is ends up being is forgettable, weak and unfunny.
The bathroom attendants, the silent constant companions of the viewer (and if we’re being pretentious about it, a cypher for the viewer, anticipating their reactions and acting out their desires on screen) are another weak element. They could have been a clever sarcastic foil to the self-absorbed clubbers using their facilities, but instead all they do is stand around silently, occasionally looking meaningfully at the camera, presumably to signpost funny moments. Rarely do they take part in what’s going on around them, which is a great shame because when they do involve themselves, it is something of a relief from the flat lines and unfunny stereotypes. Making them silent watchers was a big mistake on the show’s part and they end up simply being a distracting disappointment.
There are faint glints of hope among this mess though. An episode called “The Interview” follows a woman who goes to the bathroom to practice her interview pitch, revealing a back-story about divorce and unemployment in the process. The Interview is a well-acted and well-conceived couple of minutes, full of personal drama, a properly relatable character, genuine humour and a lovely ending. Another episode “Ed” takes a comedic look at masculinity when a transvestite and a very drunk guy meet in the restrooms – it’s clever and thoughtful and quietly amusing. If anything these episodes make criticisms of this show even more pertinent – they can do better, they can make funny, human moments out of this premise, but they have instead chosen to rush out a load of flat, boring episodes, hoping that quantity will make up for quality. Creating bad comedy is a bad enough thing, but choosing to lower your standards when you are capable of better is even worse.
If you are an extremely optimistic person, give this show a look, there might be more decent episodes out in the future, but I wouldn’t advise wading through the rest of it to get there.