After I finished watching the first episode of Tello Films’ new web series The Throwaways, I had to stand up and walk away from my computer to get myself together. In fact, it took me nearly a full day to watch all ten episodes — about two hours of content — because it is one of the most heartbreakingly authentic stories about LGBTQ youth I’ve ever seen. It is The Misfits meets Skins meets modern-day Dickens, if Dickens had grown up gay and gotten his hands on a video camera. (And I’m only comparing it to British TV because Americans don’t have the balls to put this kind of thing on the air.)
The first episode opens with honor student Olivia trying to convince her best friend to study so they’ll be able to get into Brown together in the fall. Calculus gives way to making out, because these best friends and more like girlfriends, but their study date is busted up by Olivia’s mom, who claims it’s not the first time she’s spotted the two girls doing more than homework. She tells Olivia to pack a bag for a one-way trip to de-gaying camp, and Olivia obeys — before taking her bag and running away. See, and now I’ve told you the plot of first ten minutes, but that synopsis doesn’t even begin to do justice to the episode. I knew how the first episode was going to shake down, just from watching the trailer, but my heart still wasn’t prepared for how real the story felt.
What follows in the next nine episodes is Olivia coming face-to-face with the world outside her parents’ home. It is harsh and brutal and unbending — and homophobia is alive and well, thank you very much — but it is not without hope. Hiding inside the broken places, Olivia finds a community of queer women who believe that your real family isn’t the one you are born into, but the one you make for yourself. Of course it’s not all Christmas carols around the fire when you’re a Dickensian street hoodlum. If you’ve got a merry band of homeless lesbian teens to feed, you kind of have to invoke the Robin Hood rule to get by.
Ashley Andersen plays Olivia. I don’t know her from any other projects, but after seeing her here, I’ve got a feeling I’ll be knowing her projects in the future for a long, long time. She simply inhabits Olivia. And Bridget McManus — who, in the spirit of full disclosure, is both my friend and our editor-in-chief’s wife — is better than ever in The Throwaways. What’s special about her performance is that the she does for the audience exactly what she does for Olivia: She gives us the gift of laughter so we can breathe for just a second. And she also brings it with emotional gravitas in a way I’ve never seen her do before.
The entire cast is diverse and hella talented, and AfterEllen.com writer Mia Jones even makes her acting debut the series. (She’s just as adorable and fierce as you’d expect.)
You never really know what kind of production values you’re going to get with a web series, on account of the fact that you can film some scripted dialogue on your iPhone camera and put it on YouTube and call it a web series. But The Throwaways has the highest quality production values I’ve ever seen in a web series, from the directing to the color correction to the sound design. I’m seriously not kidding when I say that if they’d thrown in a cross-processed skyline and some British accents, this would have felt like an episode of Skins.
Two months ago, when gay folks made their annual Pride marches through every major city in America, there was a distinct sense of victory that accompanied the annual celebration. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” had been overturned, President Obama’s administration had promised to stop defending DOMA, and same-sex marriage had been legally recognized in six states, including New York. That weekend Melissa-Harris Perry sat down with a panel of LGBTQ activists to talk about what those legislative achievements mean to the gay community. Ana Oliveira, the President & CEO of The New York Women’s foundation, said:
This web series steps into that crisis. It doesn’t shy away from the hard truth that 40 percent of homeless youth today are queer, or the fact that those youth are faced with impossible decisions about morality when they can no longer rely on their parents to meet their basic needs. But The Throwaways doesn’t abandon us in that bleak statistic. Writers Julie Keck, Jessica King and Christin Mell take us and Olivia to the dark places, to the broken places, and then they stitch us back together with a hope that feels so real.
This is a story that is compelling and gritty — and two dozen other TV buzzwords — enough for primetime network TV, but the ladies at Tello Films aren’t waiting around for NBC to do something about it. They’re making the magic themselves.
The Throwaways launches August 23 on TelloFilms.com in their premium content section. Check back here on AfterEllen.com later today for an exclusive clip from the series.