Is this what Gaby and Allison would want? No. Probably not. Well, how the hell should I know?
Before we begin, allow me to preface everything below by saying I may be wrong about some, most, or all of it. These are reflections I’ve had about a web series I’ve only been exposed to for a week or so. I learn something new every time I watch a few episodes, so as I progress, no doubt I will learn a week or so from now that the following words make me sound stupid in some way. I’m used to sounding stupid. Comes with the territory of being me.
THE STORY SO FAR
I’m addicted. I recently discovered a silly little web series on YouTube that’s actually been going in one form or another since 2014. It’s called Just Between Us and stars Allison Raskin and Gaby Dunn as two young (twentysomethings) single roommates in Los Angeles California who are best friends. In actuality, they may or may not be single, they’re not roommates anymore, but I think they still live in California. Facts are very ephemeral things in Trump’s America.. I digress.
In case you haven’t noticed, I don’t write in this space as much as I used to. Back in 1997, I wrote an online diary. That went on for many years, and it’s evolved in many ways, much of it doesn’t even exist online (or anywhere for that matter) anymore. Most recently I’ve had this wordpress thing where for the longest time I planned to write fiction and also essays about a wide range of topics, maybe do some movie reviews and talk about live local concerts I’d attend, but what happened instead was I ranted and rambled about how much there isn’t a god for a few years, and then whenever some celebrity that I noticed died, I’d narcissistically ramble about how much I’d miss them. I mean, someone would die, and I’d somehow make it all about me. That’s terrible, in 20/20 hindsight, but I’d do it again! No regrets! Anyway, a few years ago I started losing my gumption to write anything in this space. I’d return now and then, but mostly to post in here stuff that I had posted elsewhere and wasn’t sure if it’d stay where I posted it so I’d copy it in here just in case I’d get censored elsewhere on the web, or I’d just like what I had to say and wanted a copy of it where I might find it later. That’s not the same as writing intentionally for this space. I’m writing a lot I guess. I just post elsewhere on the web. For nothing. And nobody really cares. I can’t even give my words away. As far back as I can remember, I’ve been a writer, but you’d think by now I’d be better at it.
I was working on a series of short stories I called “The Lotus Project” which is still available elsewhere here in WordPress, and for a time I promised myself I wouldn’t start anything new here in WordPress until I finished that. However, I’m never going to finish Lotus. It started as a thinly veiled fanfic based very loosely on Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. However I intentionally didn’t use direct references to Marvel’s copyrighted works, and as I progressed it became less about SHIELD and more about.. well hell I don’t know. I don’t know anymore. I had an end. I had somewhere I was planning on going. In fact the end point I had was originally supposed to be the beginning but before I could write the beginning, I had to go back for my own edification and find out what these two characters were like. And at first I was more interested in one character but then I explored the other character and she kinda took over the whole idea and it went off the rails and.. I’m never going to finish it. It’s just a bunch of vignettes now loosely connected to each other that were going somewhere, but that was years ago. Now I just gotta let that go and move on, cuz I’m tired of this writer’s block.
But what to write? If I wasn’t going to complete Lotus, what was I going to start? And what’s the point in starting anything new if I am just never going to finish it anyway? This is a downward spiral kinda thing. If you’ve ever experienced writer’s block, you know what I mean. You just lose faith in your own abilities as a writer and nothing’s worth doing anymore. That’s where I’ve been for awhile.
But then I stumbled upon Just Between Us. A web series featuring two characters I thought I understood (i don’t by the way). Three minute scripts. I started imagining what I’d do with these characters. For the first time in a long while the creative juices were flowing, and I didn’t know where they’d take me but I wanted to find out. So I’ve been exploring that for the past week or so and even though I have no intentions on these works ever getting published, or produced, the intent here is just to stir my creative juices again. IF Gaby and Allison ever see the rotten fruit of my labors, I’m hoping they take it in a positive spirit. I’m not trying to satirize them or make fun of them as individuals. I’m just exploring the space. There’s a formula to how Allison writes her scripts and I tried working within that formula and then I tried branching out from that formula and both efforts were in my subjective opinion, objective abject failures.
However, the point is I’m writing again.
I may not be writing well, but maybe I never wrote well. I just have to keep practicing and maybe someday I’ll get it right. Not necessarily here with JBU scripts, but perhaps this will lead me to something that will be good. A friend today asked me why don’t I just make up my own characters and tell stories with them, and I told her I’ve already done that and it didn’t work, so I’m trying this for awhile. Regarding writing for JBU, there’s certain lessons I think I’ve learned, and I’m going to try to summarize them here for my own edification. I will probably look back on this in a week and laugh painfully at myself while I melodramatically spin about the room shouting at nobody in particular.
Just Between Us has a formula. Not every single episode fits this formula, and even when it does, there are twists and bumps and caveats galore, but in general this is how it works. Gaby is either already in the apartment or she’s entering whatever room Allison is in. Either Allison approaches Gaby, or otherwise enters frame, and she’s distraught, or is about to be. Gaby inquires what’s wrong, and Allison tells her. This sets up the beginning of the rising action of the scene. What is actually wrong with Allison doesn’t really matter. Sometimes it’s just a trigger that leads to other stuff, or it’s the crux of the matter from which multiple smaller scenarios are produced.
Let’s say for sake of argument the problem is ghosts. Allison believes she’s experienced a ghost. Gaby could ask Allison a series of questions. Did she see it? No. Did she hear it? Yes. Did she feel it? Yes. How does she know it was a ghost and not something else? She just knows. And so on. Gaby may opt to take the stance that ghosts don’t exist and what Allison experienced can be explained by other means. The two of the can argue about this and while Gaby will use reason and logic, Allison will be emotional, irrational, and stubborn. So Gaby then relents. “Okay let’s assume you’re right, what would that mean?” and they explore that to it’s absurd conclusion and perhaps Allison comes to see Gaby’s side of the issue, or is even more convinced there are ghosts in their house. Or perhaps they find out what really caused the thing that goes bump in the night and remove it from their home. There’s some wind up ending where Gaby says something poignant or humorous, then Allison usually tops that, cuz this really is Allison’s show and she gets all the best lines. End scene.
Sometimes the problem isn’t ghosts. Sometimes it’s a company that has upset Alison. Perhaps she bought something she doesn’t like but doesn’t want to return it. Perhaps the problem is another person, like a suitor for Allison, or a suitor for Gaby, or a mutual friend they both know but don’t like all that much, or perhaps the problem is just life in general.
Sometimes the problem is Gaby. One episode Gaby was just sad. We’re never told exactly why she’s sad, but she is, and Allison has to make her feel better. This of course just makes Gaby feel worse, and later on she started feeling better on her own in spite of Allison’s efforts. However, every episode must have a problem which is introduced quickly, has about three minutes worth of material for the twosome to bat around and mull over, but it needs to be addressed in some way by the end of the brief episode in a manner that allows them to never have to speak about it again. I’ll get to that in a moment.
In most episodes there are also other running gags or unique aspects of the series that need to be hit when possible. Gaby needs an opportunity to remind viewers how bisexual she is, but that she doesn’t like labels. We need to be reminded, often several times per episode, that Allison is uncomfortable in her own skin and has various psychological impairments that adversely affect her social skills; obsessive compulsive disorder is chief among them. Also for the past year or so there needs to be a shot of their pet dog Sugar. Mostly cuz she’s so gosh-darned cute.
A regular ongoing running gag is Allison’s enjoyment of lecturing Gaby at “the table” with an eraser board and long dissertations about things Allison pretends to know about but are really just her opinion on what it’s like to be single and straight and ..well, whatever.
Early on in the series, the important thing was that when Gaby and Allison first met, Gaby fell in love with Allison in a romantic way. However, this was not reciprocated. Gaby found out Allison is not sexually attracted to women, but Gaby wanted to keep Allison in her life in some fashion because she found her so vexing and interesting. So they became friends and roommates, but Gaby has never stopped desiring Allison sexually, even though that’s presumably never going to happen.
This is a variation of the “Will They Won’t They” trope which is really big in situation comedies and hour long TV dramadies. Usually it’s heterosexual in nature. Past series that come to mind include Moonlighting, Remington Steele, Bones, Castle, Cheers, and even The Big Bang Theory with Leonard and Penny. Will they or won’t they have sex, or tie the knot, or whatever. I take issue with this trope because of “The Moonlighting Curse.” When the audience gets some kind of closure with regards to the sexual tension of the pair, that is essentially when the series in question “Jumps The Shark.” The story is over and everything after that is falling action. Theoretically however, the sexual tension on Just Between Us will never be rectified because of Allison’s homophobia. She may love Gaby in a nonsexual way, and even refer to her as a best friend and lifelong soul mate, but to Allison it’s platonic in nature, so Gaby will never get sexual pleasure out of this relationship. Granted, she gets her sexual gratification out of a plethora of extraneous relationships, but this only reinforced Allison’s desire never to be with Gaby “in that way” because Allison’s a bit of a germaphobe and clean freak and she just finds Gaby’s lifestyle choices to be unclean. Allison wants to find one man to spend the rest of her life with. She wants marriage. Gaby wants a polyamorous relationship where the love of her life is her primary emotional tether, but she’s open to love the rest of the world at her leisure. Allison can’t wrap her mind around that concept, being brought up in a monogamous family and culture. So theoretically, this may be a way to break the Moonlighting Curse. At least until the audience gets tired of trying to unwind this complicated puzzle. Or realizes there is no real solution that is to anyone’s satisfaction, unless one of the girls stops being who they are for the sake of the other girl, and if that happens, the characters would no longer be true to themselves. Hence the endless dilemma.
As the series has progressed, this is still an issue, but it’s taken a bit of a back seat at times. This is the foundation of the story but it’s not the meat of it. The question isn’t just will they wont they. The question is where do we go from here. The answer to that probably will never be explored in these three minute vignettes, which brings us to the next factor in what makes the show tick.
LITTLE TO NO CONTINUITY
Earlier I cited that all JBU episodes feature some kind of problem. What the dilemma is doesn’t matter, but what does usually matter is that the problem needs to be addressed and solved by the end of the episode, cuz with few exceptions, it’s never going to come up again.
With few exceptions, each episode is self-contained. You don’t necessarily have to see all the episodes in order to tell what’s going on. This is tricky because it means the characters have to establish themselves every episode, and these episodes are on average only three minutes in length. So a lot of shorthand is used to let audiences know the basics about the character dynamics. Allison is quirky and Gaby is a free spirit. Allison is introverted and Gaby is extroverted. And so on. Sometimes this is revealed through simple stage business. Sometimes it’s in dialogue. At times Allison just announces she has OCD, even tho she’s not necessarily doing anything obsessive or compulsive at the moment. We only got 3 minutes here. There’s no time for subtlety.
A problem with this however is that the characters can never really grow. Though it’s clear in more recent episodes that these actresses have blossomed and moved on from the cookie cut outs they made for themselves three or four years ago, Allison still has to be emotionally distraught and Gaby is still overly patient and conscientious while simultaneously pushing Allison’s buttons and making her uncomfortable. There are some examples of continuity. A dog was introduced as Allison’s pet about halfway through the series and gets at least a cameo in most episodes since then. There are friends who come and go, but generally most of them are never mentioned again after the episodes in which they were introduced. One episode featured a third roommate who was suddenly presumed to have been there the entire time and we only just now learn about her, but just as soon as we discover her existence, she moves out, and she is never mentioned again. Like I said, little to no continuity.
I don’t know the whole story about the lives of these two girls, but the reality that I have gleaned is essentially this. Gaby has had financial trouble which she has explained at length in podcasts I haven’t bothered to hear yet. The long and the short of it is she’s not made of money. She may have more than when they began, but I don’t think she’s footing the bill for this web series. Allison seems to be the nuts and bolts of it, whereas Gaby offers her expertise in more technical ways. Allison writes and directs most of the scripts, and Gaby edits most of the videos. They may trade off occasionally, and they may hire other talents or get interns, but the ‘real’ Allison appears to be the boss, and Gaby’s more of a hired talent. This may have caused some consternation between them over the years working together. There’s an old axiom about not mixing business with pleasure. You’re not supposed to work with your friends cuz that can bring unpleasantness, but as of this writing they’re still working together so that’s gotta stand for something.
However, whether Allison’s made of money or suffers from similar financial constraints to Gaby, it’s clear the series itself is not heavily funded. The girls have on occasion intentionally “sponsored” videos with various companies, but they don’t seem comfortable doing that, and no singular sponsor has stuck with them for long so it’s not even clear if such sponsorships are really helping them fund their efforts. While some scripted shows do occasionally make their way outside, it’s probably not more than say, across the street. They have done perhaps one episode in a car, and it looked like filming that was a major pain in the ass. Most episodes seem to take place in Allison’s apartment (also presumably Gaby’s apartment, although the actresses are not currently living together in real life, the conceit of the sketches is that they are still together). The upshot of this is, if you’re going to write for Just Between Us, the constraints of their finances must be taken into account. They’re not gonna be able to do any special effects, or buy expensive props, or even leave their studio apartment. Whatever you do has to take place inside their usual set. Whatever other characters you invent have to be castable by their network of friends. Ideally, it’s best to keep the story about Allison and Gaby. Bringing in other characters should be at a minimum. Which brings me to–
There’ve been many. In my first two attempts to write a fanfic script based on Just Between Us, I’ve learned the hard way that this is a much more difficult thing to pull off than Allison Raskin makes it seem. It’s like observing a person perform a ballet routine while wielding a chainsaw. You don’t understand why anyone would do such a thing, but it’s a marvel to behold.
From “Pet Clause” I learned not to use the dream cheat. What I mean by that is to start the episode with some fantastical impossible thing, and then by the end of the episode just have Allison wake up in Gaby’s lap. That’s always cheating, and in hindsight I’ve never seen Allison do that. It’s just not her.
Also the world of Allison and Gaby is grounded in reality, so exploring fantasy and scifi motifs doesn’t really work. I want to explain here while I’m thinking about it, I know Sugar is a female, but I liked the idea of a male voice coming out of her at the end, because I was trying to hint that maybe this entire scenario was Gaby’s dream and not Allison’s. However, I wrote that before seeing the episode in which they had already given Sugar a voice. So fans of the series probably would have taken umbrage with my conceit, even though I knew what I was going for. So that was another mistake.
From “Into the Late Afternoon” I learned the story must be about Allison. You can’t introduce other characters just to make things interesting. If you introduce other characters, they can’t be more than cameos. They can’t hog the limelight or carry the lion’s share of the episode. I added two characters to JBU for one episode thinking it would be cool to have a gun showdown in their living room, but of course I can’t have Gaby and Allison pointing guns at each other, so I had to invent two other characters who would do this. However, now what’s happening is your principal characters are reacting instead of acting on one another, and that’s NOT a Just Between Us scenario. Complete meltdown of a mistake.
Even Gaby is often more of a supporting character to Allison. Everything in Allison and Gaby’s world exists so that the audience can watch Allison respond to it. Even Gaby is there so Allison can freak out, or resist freaking out, or squirm in her uncomfortable skin. Even though Gaby and Allison share the limelight, this is ultimately about Allison.
I also learned there’s a reason why the episodes are only three minutes in length. You must keep the story simple, which is why the formula is so important. For “Into The Late Afternoon” I had this idea that I would take the plot of “Into The Night” which starred Jeff Goldblum and Michelle Pfeiffer. I would multiply it by two, putting both Gaby and Allison into the Pfeiffer role, and then I’d give each of them a Jeff Goldblum like character that would be their ideal romantic ingenue counterpart. Then I wanted to take these two movies and squeeze them into three minutes inside the apartment. Total abject failure. Now I’m doing exposition the way Shakespeare did. All the interesting stuff happened earlier in the day off camera, and Allison and Gaby have to tell each other, while two characters are aiming guns at each other. It just completely fell apart and made no sense in the end. Still, it was fun to write.
Putting words in these girls’ mouths is much harder than I thought it would be. They have a special kind of rhythm that’s tricky to emulate. They also get high pitched a lot, which is sometimes kind of annoying, but i think it’s intentional. Like I said, ballet with chainsaws. Allison makes it look so easy. I may fail again, but I wanna try again. Hopefully the third time’s the charm. I don’t know at this point if there will be a fourth. I’m still hashing out the third one. Lord willin and the crick don’t rise, I’ll have it worked out in a few days. Wish me luck. Hopefully this time i won’t make the mistakes I’ve already made, but I will probably make entirely new ones.