An easy, and entirely too obvious way to describe Adam Goldman’s web series The Outs would be to say that it’s Girls with gays. The two shows certainly share a bit in common: both set in Brooklyn, both semi-autobiographical stories of their writer/director/stars, both about young post-grads trying to make it in highly competitive media fields, both featuring great indie kid approved soundtracks, both adept at balancing funny dialogue with more heartwarming and dramatic story lines, and both about people trying and failing at friendship/love/sex/any sort of human connection. And yes, both feature predominately white casts, but so did Seinfeld, and you don’t see overly self-righteous bloggers going after that guy.
If you like Girls, it’s safe to say you’ll probably like The Outs. But despite its similarities to Lena Dunham’s ode to ladies, The Outs overcomes the easy comparisons to become a great show in its own right.
The first season is only six episodes—with a “Hanukkah Special” on the way—so I was able to watch the entire series in a single sitting immediately after learning about its existence. Binging on any show has its advantages and disadvantages, but if you get the chance, I would recommend watching the show in one big gulp. (The run time of the first season is a little over two hours.) I would recommend watching The Outs like this because Goldman does a great job creating a single narrative, with an enticing beginning and satisfactory end. If The Outs was not to have a second season, (although thankfully, it will) viewers would find the closing moments of the final episode to be poignantly fitting and wholly earned. In a matter of six short episodes, Goldman is able to introduce likably flawed characters, build up our expectations around them, and then completely upend those expectations. Without giving too much away, I’ll say that the final scene of the first season of The Outs is like a bizarro version of The Graduate, in that two characters make a responsible decision for their future, unsure if maybe the impractical and impulsive wasn’t the right choice.
The Outs focuses on three young Brooklynites named Mitch (Goldman), Jack (Hunter Canning) and Oona (Sasha Winters). Oona is mostly a comic relief character but the show does a good job incorporating her into the central conflict. Winters is incredibly funny and Oona gets some of the best lines in the show, (“Support isn’t just a river in Egypt or, whatever.”) but she mostly exists as a scene partner for Mitch. This is really the boys’ story. When we first meet Mitch and Jack, six months have passed since the end of their relationship, with each guy dealing with single life in a different way. Jack is indulging in his “slutty phase,” engaging in multiple, anonymous, internet- and Grindr-driven hook ups within the first episode. When a prospective hookup/partner asks Jack how long this phase has been going on, he replies, “long enough that I’m over it but not long enough to know how to get out of it.”
Canning plays Jack as contemplative and brooding but never annoyingly so. We get hints early on that Jack’s actions resulted in the end of the relationship, but of course, nothing is as simple as that. After Jack plays a thoughtless joke on Mitch, ruining his date with a handsome, charming prospect (with a “96% vector match” according to the dating site they met on), we get a sense of which of the two we should be rooting for and identifying with more. But again, Goldman does a great job flipping our expectations over the course of six episodes.
And how could we not root for Mitch? He’s funny, cute, dolefully earnest, and “critically un-laid” while his rat bastard ex is sleeping with every guy in Brooklyn. Eventually we learn that while Mitch may be a great friend to watch America’s Next Top Model with, we all might think twice about entering into a relationship with him. Mitch doesn’t share a whole lot with Girls’ Hannah except for the tendency to stretch endearing self-deprecation into desperate self-obsession.
Initially it seems like this is going to be the story of how Mitch is able to pull his life back together post-Jack, through a series of catastrophically embarrassing romantic encounters until he finds his cardigan clad match. In the first scene between the exes at the end of the first episode, after Jack has ruined Mitch’s date, he tells Jack that he’s poison, and it’s hard to disagree. But as the story progresses and we learn more and more about their relationship, the harder it is for us to see one of them in a more flattering light than the other. In the great fifth episode, told entirely through flashback, we get to see the final day of the relationship. Goldman and Canning do a wonderful job of portraying a couple that knows the end is imminent but can’t help sticking it out because giving up on something three years in the making is too hard.
I said at the beginning of this post that The Outs is like Girls with gays, but that has more to do with tone and style and setting than it does with content or overarching themes. Lena Dunham has a lot to say about, not just the specific four girls that star in the show, but the role of girls/women/ladies in general (or at least urban dwelling affluent East Coast girls). Goldman could not get away with calling his show Gays. Yes, many of the facets of gay life for men in their twenties are addressed (casual sex, Charlie’s Angels references) but rarely explicitly. This is not Queer as Folk, where everything from gay bashing to polyamorous relationships to AIDS gets its own special issue episode. This is a character-driven comedy focused around a relationship in which both members happen to be men. Goldman wrote a story about a gay couple, not because he has anything specific to say about gay culture, but because he’s gay. When every TV show with gay characters has to make a political statement about its gayness (Glee, Modern Family, The New Normal), it’s refreshing to watch a show that’s only agenda is telling a story about characters who just happen to be gay.