There have only been four times in my whole AfterEllen.com life when I have, in one sitting, devoured something I was given to review. Four times when I’ve walked away in a euphoric haze wishing for a time machine so I could deliver the books or DVDs or whatever to a younger version of myself. It happened with Malinda Lo‘s Ash, with generation two of Skins, with Batwoman: Elegy. And last night it happened again when I sat down to watch Tello Films’ new web series, I Hate Tommy Finch.
Here’s the story of the IHTF‘s origin: Back in October, Anyone But Me‘s Nicole Pacent and Cowgirl Up‘s Shannan Leigh Reeve teamed up with writers Christin Mell, Jessica King, and Julie Keck to present a two-lady, one-act play about the 27-year relationship between two childhood best friends who fall all over themselves and each other on the way to falling in love. The play takes place in ten scenes, each one zooming in on the girls at a different age. They’re eight years old in the principal’s office, 15 years old at a sleepover, 23 years old in the eve of a wedding. Over the course of three decades, Stephanie and Alyssa come of age, come out, and finally come to understand what they really mean to one another.
After the play’s run in Chicago, the folks at Tello Films turned it into a web series. I confess I was a little skeptical when I heard the premise. There’s an inherent intimacy in live theater and I’ve never seen a block-by-block adaptation that was able to fully engage a film audience in the communion. But IHTF actually manages to do it. Pacent and Reeve are so mesmerizing and their chemistry is so charged — the longing! my god, the longing! — it wouldn’t matter if IHTF had the same kind of production values as, say, Venice or Anyone But Me. There’s no way you’d be able to take your eyes off those two long enough to notice what’s in the background.
One of the things I enjoyed most about IHTF was watching Pacent and Reeve stretch past what I’d seen them do before. I know Nicole Pacent is hilarious; I’ve seen interviews with her, of course. But you don’t get to see a lot of that comedic timing on Anyone But Me. (Don’t get me wrong; I think ABM is brilliant. It’s just not a comedy.) She’s especially hilarious when she’s playing the kid version of Stephanie. And Reeve, who is hysterical in Cowgirl Up, kind of shocked me with the stone-faced levity she brought to the stage.
If I had one quibble with the production it would be the sound design. Pacent, especially, is hard to hear at times, and the music — which was written for, and played live, during the show — is a little distracting. (It’s good music; the sound design was just a little wonky in my ears.) You’ll definitely want headphones on hand for this one.
It took me about an hour to watch all five episodes of IHTF and when I was done, I realized that in 60 minutes it had given more authentic lesbian relationship development than Grey’s Anatomy, Glee and Pretty Little Liars combined have done so far this season. Obviously network television and internet web series’ are different animals, and while I’d never give up my TV lezzers, there is something singularly satisfying about watching a love story written specifically for a lesbian audience. My goodness, how it resonates.
You can watch I Hate Tommy Finch on TelloFilms.com. Two episodes have been released so far, and three more are on the way. IHTF is hanging around in their premium content section, so you’ll have to cough up $3.99 per month to watch it — but it’s totally worth forgoing one latte, I think. If you check it out, drop me a line or leave a comment and let me know if you liked it as much as I did.