We spoke to Jane Espenson and Brad “Cheeks” Bell, the writing team behind web series Husbands. Following a highly successful Kickstarter campaign, they are now in the planning stages for season 2 and took some time out to share their combined thoughts on the series, their future plans, and humour as a force for good.
What was the motivation behind creating Husbands?
It started out in the normal way – we wanted to work on a project that would allow us to be entertaining. But it turned into something more very quickly. As soon as we realized this was a story about same sex newlyweds, we realized that this was a chance to say something about the universal experience of trying to make a life with someone while making every mistake possible.
How did the series transition from an idea to a web series?
The original idea was to make a web series, even before it was about newlyweds, so that was there from the beginning. We were fans of other web series like The Guild – We particularly love Very Mary Kate as well – and it seemed like a good way to bring content directly to viewers. It turned out to be an especially perfect fit for us since content like ours doesn’t often find a home on network TV.
A lot of web series struggle from financial constraints, and rely solely on volunteers to both produce and act in the series. Was this the case for Husbands season 1?
We financed season one on our own, and we did rely on the generosity of a lot of people – Shawna Trpcic provided us with wardrobe at far below her normal rate. Our cast members worked for ridiculously small amounts. The house location belonged to generous friends of Jane’s. We relied on the kindness of friends and a few strangers as well.
Is it more difficult to find actors for a web series than for a television series?
Hmm. Because we ask for so little of their time, we can sometimes get people who love to act and welcome the idea of doing it in our low-stress lets-have-fun environment. Nathan Fillion and YouTube star Michael Buckley were both great to work with in season one. Other than for the role of Brady (Sean Hemeon), we haven’t even held casting sessions, just reached out to people. We used Twitter to do this, actually, sometimes. Since season one already exists, we can use that now to get people intrigued. We don’t have a lot – or sometimes any – money to offer, so we can’t buy a name, but we wouldn’t want to do that anyway. Part of what makes Husbands so special is that the people who do it are here because they love us, or love the show, or love what it says about marriage equality – or all three!
What sort of response have you had towards the first Season of Husbands?
Huge. More than we expected. We knew there was an audience, and thought we would get the views. We didn’t know that we’d get this level of fan engagement. The fans donated money to help us create season two! We raised the money we needed in a week! The entire cast and crew were blown away. And we was also amazed by the level of critical acclaim. We are the only online tv show ever reviewed by The New Yorker, and it was a rave. That… wow.
There are two schools of thought on delivering social commentary through humour – on the one hand, it can help bring issues to a wider audience and prompt more people to think and care about things that otherwise might be easily overlooked. However, some believe that it can detract from the gravity of causes and make them easier to overlook. What are your thoughts on this?
Oh piffle on the people who think it detracts. No no no. Humor is always a force for good. I guess I can see the point if we were laughing at marriage equality as an idea worthy of ridicule, but what we’re doing is drawing an equivalence between the marriage of Cheeks and Brady and the marriage of Lucy and Ricky or any other humorously married couple. Just try to be threatened by our newlyweds – no, humor is disarming.
Has the series been a target of the anti-gay movement?
Not at all! I didn’t really expect that we’d be targeted, but I thought we’d get negative comments on YouTube. Even that hasn’t really happened. Our positive comment rate is like 99%. It’s like I was saying – you can’t get that mad when you’re laughing.
Gay marriage is still being debated as we speak. Your series exists in a world where it has been legalised, and focuses on a newly married gay couple. However, the show never goes into a discussion about this, and instead is focused on the dynamic between a couple who get married when drunk; they just happen to both be men. Do you think that if more programs took this approach, focusing on relationship rather than gender, people would be more able to accept the idea that there isn’t some giant divide between heterosexual and homosexual relationships?
I don’t know if I want to tell other people how to present their message, but I do love the way we went about it. The star of our show is the relationship, and you’ll see in season two that although the same-sexedness of their marriage is relevant, it’s really the differences in their personalities that cause the conflicts. That was really fun to realize and enlightening to write.
Will there be major production differences between Seasons 1 and 2?
Yes. We are doing everything we can afford to improve the production quality – images, sound… everything. We are shooting for a longer amount of time and with more guests in a new location. But it still has the signature rhythm and sound and feel and humor of season one.
Did the response to the Kickstarter campaign surprise you?
We set the target at an amount we were pretty sure we could reach. BUT… we never expected to reach it in a WEEK! Oh my god. That surprised us a lot. That was amazing. Our fans are the very best. We are all still signing all those cast photos that our backers will receive – they are going out soon! We didn’t realize how many signatures that was! Wow!
Having worked on both television and web series, what are the major differences between the two in terms of creativity, censorship issues, and final say on outcome?
Jane: Well, those are the big areas of contrast, all right. No censorship except that we patrol ourselves – we don’t want to shock people – well, maybe mildly. And we have final say, which is great and quite new to me. Creativity – well, I’ve been lucky to work on some great shows, but there is something wonderful about how much this springs from our hearts onto the page. I love TV, and it has advantages web series can’t match in many areas. But an online show has its advantages too.
Do you think that there will be a greater shift towards web-based series as opposed to more traditional television series?
Either a shift or a melding. Guess we’ll see!
When can we expect Season 2 of Husbands?
This summer – July or August. We want to make sure that it’s as good as it can be… and we don’t want to make you wait too long. You’ll see it before you see the new fall TV shows!
In the meantime, if you want to catch up on season 1 of the series, you can find it here.