Web Series, 2014, 4 stars
Created, written and directed: Julie Kalceff
First Released: 2014-2016
An example of how no money can sometimes still equal awesome.
When stories that lesbians really want to see aren’t being made, it’s up to us as a community to start picking up cameras and making that content for ourselves. From Go Fish until now, this has been the reality. Sometimes it really works, like with this wonderful series. Sometimes it really doesn’t. I have nothing but admiration for those who try though, and when it does work it’s so incredibly satisfying.
It’s also really exciting to see people making creative, original content and using new forms of delivery that go outside the traditional. These filmmakers are reaching new audiences through YouTube and independent film websites that they would never have otherwise have found. Starting From…Now has had upwards of 30 million views. How’s that for proof that there is demand for our own stories?
To top it off, this series is well written, well-made, and well-acted (for the most part in each case). It’s deliciously addictive, well-paced, and the injection of some much-deserved funding into the process for seasons 4 and 5 took an already well fleshed-out world to new heights and into previously unavailable depths. Thank you SBS, the various Australian film funds and corporate sponsors (did anybody else spot the completely obvious IVF Australia plug in Season 5?)
Instead of waiting months between episodes and seasons, those of us who came late to this phenomenon can binge-watch the entire series in one evening, much like picking up a new series on Netflix. I sat in my loungeroom, on the bus, on my lunch break, whenever I could find ten minutes to devour a new episode. Each “season” is only around 45 minutes long broken up into 6 webisodes, so this journey spans just 5 regular-sized TV episodes. They somehow packed more emotion into that time than I think I’ve ever seen in any similar format.
The format is much like reading a book of short stories about someone’s life when what you really want is the richness of a novel, interesting but sometimes dissatisfying. The technique being used here is also not an easy one. Each webisode, while being a continuation of the larger story arc, must be a standalone piece, with a beginning, a middle and an end, with enough of a hook to draw the audience back for the next episode.
Mostly they’ve gotten the recipe just right, however, particularly in the early seasons, there were a few things that were sub-optimal for the viewing experience.
Firstly, I’m pretty sure in seasons 1 and 2 they must have been using the microphone in the camera because the sound came in and out. The camera had to stay still and pretty close to the characters in order to capture the action and the voices. I’m sure this seriously impacted the director’s creative choices.
Then, even in the later seasons where options were more plentiful, the characters keep spending a lot of time standing in doorways, knocking on doors, coming in and out of doors, standing in hallways with doors in the background… there always seems to be a door. If I was being a film studies nerd I might suggest that this is meant to symbolise the transience of the characters and their existence, coming in and out of each other’s lives with little warning…but mostly I think perhaps locations were limited, and inside these old houses it was easier to pull off the lighting and framing of the shot in the doorway.
Lastly, because of budget constraints, the seasons 1-3 don’t really allow us to explore enough of the lives of each of the women. It is focused on the relationships they have with each other, and every decision feels infused or inspired by their love or sex lives, rather than any of the other myriad factors that play into their lives every day. Again, I get that the format of the series required this to some extent. Fortunately with more money in seasons 4 and 5 they moved us into offices, hospitals, pubs, restaurants, clubs, and other places which livened up the feel and variety of it all tremendously.
Hilariously, when I look back on it, in nearly every episode I wanted to slap one of the characters. I particularly wanted to slap Steph for her selfishness and stupidity early on. Of course, everyone wanted to slap Kristin, for her singlemindedness about having a kid at all costs, and then again as she dropped her perfect life in the toilet.
We wanted to slap Darcy for her indecision, shallowness, and lack of courage, until we realise in the final season that her inability to properly connect with people has a darker cause. I even wanted to slap beautiful, well-meaning Emily as she threw herself repeatedly down to be trampled on emotionally, time and again. The conclusion was a relief, just to see Emily finally demand to be treated the way she deserves.
The point though, is that we really care. We come back for more, we watch in horror as they make bad decisions, and we yell at the screen to try and stop them (or is that just me?)
I couldn’t be more surprised and proud that this was a home-grown, Australian initiative. Writer/director Julie Kalceff showed remarkable commitment to her vision. She’s not at all afraid of exploring the sexuality of her characters when warranted, and plumbs the emotional depths when needed. Plus, the series is unashamedly, unflinchingly gay. The cast all had their shining moments, but I will be paying particular attention to the career of Bianca Bradey as it no doubt takes off.
My star rating is more a reflection of the later seasons than the earlier which are more 3-star territory, so expect some early bumps. I guarantee though, you will like it. All I can really say to all these dedicated women is congratulations, thanks, and wow, what an achievement.
And since this is a web series, I can just link to it. Start here!