Sunday 28th May 2017,
Televisual

Web Series Spotlight: ‘stalkTALK’ Skewers Rehab TV

Web Series Spotlight” showcases an indie web series I feel is culturally relevant, artistically notable or simply interesting.

I’ve been very upfront about my lack of respect for most reality TV, particularly “celebrity rehab,” which preys on our desire to see people at their worst, especially if we once knew them at their best. It’s no surprise celeb-packed New Year’s Eve referenced celebrity rehab to create some buzz. It has become a niche cultural touchstone.

If there’s anything stalkTALK understands it’s the inanity of our obsession with famous people. A web series about rehab for celebrity stalkers, stalkTALK boasts a cast of talented actors, each with a range of peculiarities and an abnormal obsession with B-list stars like Larry David, Pee-wee Herman, David Hasselhoff and Lindsay Lohan.

“Suddenly, celebrities have become more accessible,” series creator and co-star Rachel Helson said in an email interview. “We follow their tweets every day and can even directly tweet at them. These sites create the false sense that we are communicating and interacting with celebrities. stalkTALK is a show about what happens to people when they take this obsession too far.”

stalkTALK is a sharp and witty sitcom in the style of 30 Rock and Arrested Development, with zany characters and frequent cut-aways — not easy to pull off on an indie budget. “The things I could do with a real budget!” Helson said. Still, the series recently won “best web series” at the New York International Independent Film & Video Festival.

Helson is a young talent to watch, having already produced a bunch of theater — New York Times-profiled at 18, Tony-nominated at 20 — while also grabbing prestige credits at institutions like the Old Vic. Below we hear from Helson about rehab culture, how she came up with the concept and her plans to extend its life. For more episodes visit stalktalk.tv.

Where did the idea for stalkTALK come from?

Since I moved to LA, everyone has been buzzing about new media entertainment, and how important it is to utilize it since television and the internet are merging at a rapid-fire pace…so I had an interest in exploring the wonderful world of the web series, but no premise. I wish I had a funny or clever story for how I came up with the concept, but alas, not so much. Actually, I have a friend who was a child actor that was being stalked. It was a real invasion of privacy; she was very upset about it, and it made me mad quite honestly. I couldn’t figure out why this guy thought he had the right to harass my friend, and in discussing the situation with my friend one day, I said, “Isn’t there some rehab facility where you could just send him? Like AA for stalkers?” And then, I thought, “Well, that’s kind of funny…”

What were your inspirations? I sense hints of Arrested Development, 30 Rock and the zanier TV sitcoms.

Oh yeah, lots of influences from both Arrested Development and 30 Rock. Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld as well. Larry David is an absolute genius. He and Woody Allen are my two favorite comedians for sure. But as far as shows go, I think Arrested Development was the greatest comedy ever on television. It’s the comic Mecca. I mean, I was hooked from the moment I learned that Buster majored in 18th century Agrarian Business and that Lindsay threw benefits for the anti-circumcision group “HOOPS (Hands Off Our Penises.)” The humor was so smart. It’s still the only show that I can watch over and over and enjoy every time.  I only hope that one day I can work on a show that is as hilarious as Arrested Development.


How did you cast the series? The project relies heavily on the comedic talents of its actors.

The cast came from actors that I knew from either a social, professional or academic settings. For example, Peter Lewis, who played Tom Balsac, is from Kentucky originally and is an old friend of my family. His father is a minister and married my parents. Peter has an incredible resume (Mad Men, Untraceable, 30 Rock to name a few,) and he is tremendously talented. I had always wanted to work with him, and this just presented the perfect opportunity. I met Brad Schmid,t who plays Michael, in a scene study class in LA, and I just thought he was awesome. Meaghan Oppenheimer  (Drew) and Wendelin von Schroder (Ashley) both went to NYU with me. So the actors come from a lot of different places!

What are your thoughts on “rehab” TV trend, i.e. Celebrity Rehab, Intervention, etc.?

Well, the rehab TV trend is one that interests me for sure. I have to question the motives of those involved— especially those that are being “rehabilitated.” On the one hand, if they are there to share their story publicly so that they can inspire those so called “normal people” with similar problems to help themselves— that’s admirable. But, I’m a skeptic. I’m sure those people do exist, but I feel like most people involved in those shows are desperately clawing for fifteen minutes of fame. I don’t begrudge them. You have to pay the rent. And, obviously, people enjoy them for whatever reason, but I think that it brings up a larger question about our current culture’s obsession with celebrity.

We live in an age where anyone can become a celebrity.  It’s just a fact. It’s the reason that reality television shows like American Idol, America’s Got Talent, Keeping up with the Kardashians and Real Housewives exist and thrive. And, with the invention of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, it has become easier than ever to get a peek into the lives of celebrities. Suddenly, celebrities have become more accessible.  We follow their tweets every day and can even directly tweet at them. These sites create the false sense that we are communicating and interacting with celebrities. stalkTALK is a show about what happens to people when they take this obsession too far.

Do you have plans for more episodes? If so, under what conditions?

I have dozens of new episodes in my head. The first season taught me a lot about how the show should work and has helped me work out the kinks. Right now, we’re in discussions with television networks about potentially turning it into a 22 minute comedy which I would love! The things I could do with a real budget! However, I’m also exploring ways to expand the show online. Like I said before, the Internet and television are merging and it’s important to understand both worlds. I guess the bottom line is that I’m weighing all of my options!

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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.

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