“Strangers” is the Lesbian-Themed Show to Binge on Facebook Watch

on

The streaming video on demand industry is becoming increasingly cutthroat. Streaming services now not only have to compete for the rights to stream Hollywood blockbusters, but they have to deliver original content as well. Last August, Facebook introduced “Facebook Watch.” According to its information page, Watch allows for the airing of episodes—live or recorded—that follow a consistent theme or storyline.

Watch enables content creators to reach new audiences and develop a following, similar to how Youtube and other social video platforms function. It’s true I’m a technological dinosaur, but Facebook definitely needs to publicize this feature better, because I hadn’t heard of Watch and I’m probably not the only one. At any rate, if you like semi-satirical comedies, particularly ones with a bunch of non-heterosexual characters, you’ll likely enjoy “Strangers,” a show created, written, produced and directed by out lesbian Mia Lidofsky

In season one, protagonist Isobel (Zoe Chao) has to rent out the spare bedroom in her beautiful LA home through an AirBnB equivalent after she cheats on her boyfriend with a woman and he moves out. Isobel’s life is immediately filled with a cast of colorful renters played by celebrity guest stars. Each episode has something particularly fun or thoughtful about it, for example:

  • In episode 1, “Honeymooners,” newly married renters Zoe (Breeda Wool, a lesbian fan favorite from “AWOL” and “UnREAL”) and Oliver (Jemaine Clement, half of the comedy duo Flight of the Conchords) crash into Isobel’s life but ultimately become a red herring to the episode’s true message, which is about the fear of change and the issue of identity and self-exploration, the latter of which persists throughout the season.

 

  • Episode 2, “Tinder Hearts,” mocks Hollywood using new renter Dave (Matt Oberg): why is it the only movie protagonists being pitched are straight white guys, while women are relegated to supporting roles, and why is it no one in Hollywood has noticed?
  • Episode 3, “Water into Wine,” pokes fun at New Ageism in 2017: renter Julie (Shiri Appleby) leads a “post-gender binary” religious group that claims “queer Jesus” was actually intersex. When Julie suggests that the act of transubstantiation that turns communal wine into the literal blood of Christ could also make it Christ’s menstrual blood, it hearkens to the idea of a gender duality of the divine…and also sounds blasphemously over the top.
  • All you need to know about Episode 4, “Couples Counseling,” is that it has Leisha Hailey (as Kim) and you need to watch it for that reason.

 

  • In episode 7, “Homeless,” final renter Emmy (Jemima Kirke) forces Isobel to confront hard truths in her life, including her relationship with her boss (Bridget Regan), leading to an epiphany about the need to be true to oneself.

Season one ends with the LA chapter of Isobel’s life ending and a new chapter opening up in New York together with her impish lesbian best friend Cam. This is where season two picks up on June 24th, this time with Isobel as the renter.

Overall, the real engine of the show is Chao, whose open and honest face coupled with Isobel’s sincere but often misguided attempts to find herself make her a relatable everywoman. We root for Isobel even as we wonder how she’s gotten herself into another fine mess. Fun fact: Chao and Lidofsky have been best friends since nursery school!

What makes “Strangers” enjoyable is Isobels’ rotating, zany renters, who bring a dash of humor to the show that elevates it to something more than the run of the mill search for identity in the midst of the twenty-something existential crisis (“Strangers” can loosely be classified as a dramedy, although it seems strong to tag it with a “drama” label). When the show moves away from its humor base in season one circa episode five, it becomes more about relationships and personal growth, but loses some of its spice. In that sense, perhaps “Strangers” is like its own protagonist: does it want to be primarily a comedy, or is it a character study with humorous inflections?

With episode run times all around 15 minutes, the first season can be binged in approximately an hour, a perfect length given that the show’s scenes might lose their punch if drawn out further. In season two, it will be interesting to see whether the show will return its focus to wacky characters and zany capers, this time poking fun at New York City culture, or if the show will chose to focus more on Isobel’s growth. Or perhaps Cam will get more opportunity to grow?

As a final note, the backstory of “Strangers” inadvertently speaks to the growing influence of lesbian directors in Hollywood. In 2015, Lidofsky was selected for the AFI Conservatory Directing Workshop for Women, where she created the series pilot for “Strangers.” At the workshop, she had a three-week boot-camp with directors like Angela Robinson and Jamie Babbit. Kimberly Pierce and Lena Waithe have also participated as “Distinguished Artists” in the program. At a time when women are seeking to make greater inroads into the power and influence side of Hollywood, lesbians are a large part of that charge. Given Lidofsky’s clear and unique vision, it’s easy to see her embarking on a successful career in Hollywood, with “Strangers” as that foot in the door.

 

More you may like