Saturday 20th January 2018,

‘Gay’s Anatomy:’ A ‘Freaky,’ ‘Awkward’ and ‘Sodomytastic’ Web Series

I’ve been behind on my interviews and I’m trying to catch up. I’d originally intended to publish this interview months ago, but got sidetracked and never followed up. Now I’ve got it and it’s too interesting and entertaining to push aside!

Gay’s Anatomyis an Office-style independent web series that debuted last year. I came across it while compiling my gay and lesbian web series list, watched an episode and was hooked! The humor is sharp, the characters vivid and cartoony, and the plotlines quite creative.

After the jump, my interview with creators Karina Mangu-Ward and Bobby Hodgson and a few clips from the series!

Gay’s Anatomy parodies a group of young would-be urologists straight of out med school — UT, Berkeley and Harvard — as they involve themselves in increasingly ridiculous and awkward sexual situations. It takes the relationship drama of Grey’s Anatomy and turns it into camp, while using The Office‘s documentary style to relay its zany humor as organically as possible.

The reason to do a web series was simple, the creators told me. While there are many gay characters on television, very few of those characters lead a series, while ensembles are a thing of the past, a predicament I’ve written about myself.

“As greedy viewers, there’s a simple and embarrassingly straightforward desire to see yourself and your world dramatized on screen,” I was told.

Despite its casual tone, the show is tightly scripted. “The finished product is about 90% scripted, give or take a vulgar hand gesture,” they told me.

And as part of that distinct vision, they wanted to open up, whimsically, a conversation on sexuality, creating odd couples and peculiar contradictions. “For us, ambiguity and contradiction create a pretty fertile comic landscape in a roomful of queers, and maybe we’re able to get at something that’s underrepresented on TV.”

Below, how the creators wrote and developed the series, what’s wrong with gay representation today and what the future holds for the independent producers.

TELEVISUAL: How did “Gay’s Anatomy” start? Where did I idea originate? I assume it has something to do with these “the future urologists who are the real-life inspiration for this series”?

Gay’s Anatomy: The idea of collaborating on a big gay opus surfaced a long time ago, but we couldn’t find a hook. Plenty of horrible ideas, of course, but we hoped a queer story was out there that might reflect our sense of humor.  Thankfully, we had drinking buddies whose lives we could steal, edit, and celebrate in the form of Mark, Mark, and Jim– we know that gay urologists are an easy joke, but they’re out there, and they deserve some appreciation/mockery.

: While the title suggests a take on “Grey’s Anatomy,” the series seems to have much more in common with “The Office.” What were your inspirations?

GA: When the title happened, “Grey’s Anatomy” was definitely our target, and the show was conceived as a direct satire of its melodrama and hypersexuality, but with a gay twist.  Early on, though– you should hear it–  our version of Meredith’s self-obsessed narration was painfully unfunny, and we saw a much better opportunity to exploit the awkward obliviousness of these ambiguously gay, not-quite-out dudes if they were figuring out how to present themselves directly to the viewer, sometimes lying, sometimes inadvertently revealing things, sometimes getting caught… it led to the documentary style. Which is also– this is key– manageable on an extreme budget.   Comparisons to “The Office” are really flattering– it’s a brilliant show, and I think we both admire the way that those writers exploit the comic possibilities of the format.  But we also throw in a lot of absurdity, a lot of melodrama and plot thickening, that we hope makes us unique.

When the title happened, “Grey’s Anatomy” was also a much better, more interesting show to lampoon than it is now.  We just liked the easy joke and couldn’t let it go.

: How would you describe the humor on “Gay’s”?

GA: Subtle, Highbrow, and Sodomytastic.

: Why do a gay series? Some would say there are plenty of gay characters on television; what distinguishes “Gay’s”?

GA: Who are these people (who would say there are plenty of gay characters on television), and, more importantly, what party drugs are they on?

There are some fantastic gay characters out there, absolutely, but there aren’t too many that take center stage, and there are even fewer gay ensembles.  As greedy viewers, there’s a simple and embarrassingly straightforward desire to see yourself and your world dramatized on screen.  We created these characters first and foremost to be funny, but it was nice to add to the roster of fake gay people in the world we can live vicariously through.

TELEVISUAL: On that note, you describe the show as “painfully gay.” What do you mean by that? I interpret it as seeing “Gay’s” as a response to the lack of overtly gay programming on TV (post-Queer as Folk, L Word).

GA: It seems so benevolent of us when you say it like that!  Really, we’re greedy greedy viewers who watch subtitled YouTube clips of foreign soap operas for the gay bits.  This was our chance to create exactly the kind of characters and series that we wanted to watch.

: What does “Gay’s” have to say about sexuality today? It seems a lot of characters transgress their identities (Jim, Casey, Mark W.).

GA: It’s true.  We stress the gayness of it all, but sexuality is a crazy, hilarious, awkward thing in everyday life. When you have one gay character in a minor role on a mainstream show, it’s tough to exploit that reality.  For us, ambiguity and contradiction create a pretty fertile comic landscape in a roomful of queers, and maybe we’re able to get at something that’s underrepresented on TV.

So, to answer your question: “Gay’s” is saying that sexuality is at least as freaky and textured as Crime Scene Investivating.

: How did you fund and produce the series? Was it a difficult process?

GA: Mostly we spent money on bagels and pizza for the cast and crew, so it was easy in that sense.  This first season was made on pretty much nothing– we had access to decent equipment though the generosity of Karina’s employer, and we made do with locations we could access for free and labor we could coerce from friends.

: How much of the show is “written.” The dialogue is quite sharp, but yet it feels natural. Is some of it improvised?

GA: The show is carefully scripted– every word!  None of that touchy-feely Christopher Guest stuff; we like punchlines, and we like them cheap. It’s the key to working with terrible actors.

Annoyingly, we got stuck with fantastic performers who sometimes disrespect our script by making it much funnier with their ideas and improvisations.

The finished product is about 90% scripted, give or take a vulgar hand gesture.

: Right now, you’re publishing the series on Vimeo. Are you trying to monetize the show or is it about more than money (exposure, fun, practice)?

GA: We’re both very happy with what’s become of the show, and proud of it creatively.  The idea originally was to power through and complete the season, then evaluate what we’d made and see where it could go.  I think we’re still in the process of doing that, but the sense is that there’s a hell of a lot more story out there.

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About The Author

Aymar Jean Christian is assistant professor of communication at Northwestern University. He writes about media and society for a number of publications. For more information, click the "About" tab at the top of the page.