The web series world is different from traditional TV, but not entirely. Like on television, most web series are generally upbeat, middle class or stay away from intense real world problems. That’s where Downsized comes in.
The acclaimed web series focuses on the effects of the recession on a diverse group of people, starring Beth (creator Daryn Strauss) who is downsized in the series’ first episode. The second season, which premiered this spring and continues on Blip, continues to follow Beth and her social circle as they navigate the difficult economy. When this season starts, Beth is still jobless. In a world where many web series viewers are still in cubicles (i.e. employed) and tend toward lighter fare, Downsized is a brave entry into the medium.
Strauss started writing Downsized just as the effects of the recession started to take hold. “Everyone else that I knew in that corporate world was just so stressed out. I just started writing different stories, different scenes … based on the crazy stories of my friends.”
Those crazy stories do come out in the series, like in the comic first episode, where Beth is laid off…by a puppet. While it has plenty of comedic moments, Downsized is more dramatic than a lot of web series, which Strauss says is starting to change.
“I think it was probably harder to have a drama than a comedy when people started making web series,” she said. “It’s becoming easier… But just like it is on TV, you have to have a good drama where people are connecting to the characters.”
The cast, diverse in terms of gender, class and ethnicity, reflects Strauss’ deep pool of friends, who make up most of the series’ characters. Casting people she knew not only ensured she would have quality talent, but also that the actors would breathe life into the material.
“We shoot in blocks. So we shot a couple of episodes, and then I would watch the footage and see what the footage is like and then I would write more based on what they brought,” she said. “So it was a very collaborate process.”
Stylistically, Downsized is decidedly minimalist. When Strauss first started writing it, she thought of little scenes, conversations between two people, in the style of In Treatment. Some episodes grew more complicated, but the episodes retain a cleanliness about them, with not too much music or fancy shots. This allows the production team time to focus on the acting and cinematography, which rival traditional media. “It’s a pretty simple style, and I really wanted to keep it that way.”
Not only an actress and producer, Strauss is also the founder of Digital Chick TV, one of only a handful of networks focused on curating web shows for women. “I felt like at the time a lot of the distribution sites were really targeting that male demographic and it was really hard to for women to find web series.”
The site recommends shows women might like and categorizes them by genre. The point is to ease discovery.
“I knew off hand that were series for women and by women, and women didn’t know where to find them,” Strauss said. “They just didn’t know where to go.”
While the web has its own issues with gender, Strauss says it is better than the mainstream media industry. “It is still a male-dominated industry. It’s changing a lot I think, but it’s still male-dominated. And the web is a place where those rules are gone. You don’t have to fit into any category or type.”
Below is the season two premiere of Downsized. For all the episodes, click here.