It’s not often that a web series really captures exactly what it should be doing from the very outset. Most of the time making a web series is a learning experience for the writers, directors and actors involved, the lack of production company involvement/guidance/interference in indie productions means that usually web series creators are building on their own experiences. In the case of Professional Friend, the show’s creator Eric Bilitch has a wealth of experience to draw on, having worked online, in theatre, and television, both writing and directing. This experience shines gloriously through, for what Bilitch and the team around him have created in Professional Friend is a dazzlingly charming, funny, unfailingly likeable show bursting with humanity and optimism.
Professional Friend is that classic American production, the story of someone following their dreams and becoming their own boss. Larry (Jonathan Biver) and Harper (Sal Neslusan) are non-identical twins with rather non-identical lives. Harper is a young executive who has found success without giving up her principles, while her brother Larry has moved from job to internship to unpaid internship to her couch seemingly with no direction in life. No direction, that is, until he realises that the thing he loves most in life is being a good friend. Following the maxim that you should turn what you love into a job, he sets himself up as a friend for rent.
In different hands this setup could have been awful. Professional Friend could have been a mean-spirited show, looking down on the lonely and impoverished, mocking both the main character and the supporting cast. Harper could have been a nagging shrew of character in another showrunner’s hands. In short this premise could have gone either way. Fortunately for all of us, this show is the opposite of all that. Although Professional Friend has only had two episodes out so far, the show has already proven itself as something special.
Far from looking down on it’s characters, this show practically celebrates the humanity of them. Every character in the show is complex; full of nuance, which adds a wonderful feel of charm to everything. Not that this is some saccharine love-in. Characters are flawed, occasionally unlikeable, but always human, and never two dimensional. Larry could so easily have been played as a crass deadbeat slacker, the kind you’d find in a show like Wingman Purgatory. Instead he is painted as a nice guy who hasn’t found his way in life. He hasn’t got anywhere really, but the show’s writing doesn’t berate him for it, the focus is on the way his new job broadens his life and that of those around him. The sister Harper, far from the horrible caricature similar characters have been painted as, is a likeable, driven career woman, she’s smart, snarky but occasionally too impulsive. Both Larry and Harper are played with a fantastic ease by Biver and Neslusan, in fact their part of the show is worth looking at in more detail.
Sibling relationships, historically speaking, haven’t usually been handled well in comedy. They normally fall into two camps. There’s the kid’s show camp, where rivalry, begrudging respect and silly pranks are the mainstay of their lives (as in Even Stevens, or The Fresh Prince). Or there’s the grown-up sibling camp, where adult siblings replay the rivalries of their childhood in suitably immature ways (as in 2 and a Half Men, a lot of Friends, Frasier and… well pretty much everything else). I’m sure you’ve noticed a pattern here. Aside from some notable exceptions (the occasionally touching moments between Monica and Ross in Friends, and the entirety of Malcolm in the Middle) sibling relationships are normally portrayed as a bit 2-dimensional. There’s rivalry and there’s the bit where they make up, and that’s pretty much it. This is where Professional Friend comes in.
Not only does it portray a grown-up sibling relationship as being non-neurotic, friendly, and very warm, it portrays a brother-sister relationship as that. This is unusual as, generally sibling relationships on TV comedy tend to be single-gender, one sibling can be a useful narrative mirror for the other, and having them be the same gender is a much easier way of doing that. The wonderfully human brother-sister relationship in Professional Friend is lovely to watch and refreshingly naturalistic by comparison.
All that, of course, it not mentioning the great writing, the fantastic direction, the funny dialogue, the good production values and the overall feeling of happiness, optimism and warmth you get when watching Professional Friend. This show, only two episodes in, is setting itself up to be a fantastically enjoyable show about friendship and family, with nicely sarcastic doses of sweary bickering in for good measure. It’s a joy to watch and a definite “watch this space” kind of show. You won’t be sorry.