The lastest episode of The Outs ends with sad Mitchell, played by series creator Adam Goldman, asleep on his couch, beer in hand, lying aside a photo of a half-naked athlete and a small pipe filled with ashes of weed. As the screen faded to black at Brooklyn’s Berry Park, the audience roared.
The character Mitchell is hapless and comically pathetic, but offscreen Goldman carries himself with more aplomb. After the applause he took no bows. Instead he stood unassumingly the corner of the bar, calmly receiving fans and supporters. He lacked any of the swagger people associate with actors, or with writers who have since been profiled in Paper magazine and heralded by MTV.
“I wrote the part, and I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to do it more than I wanted to do it. But I was, like, actively searching,” Goldman said in an interview a few days later. “I love acting, but it’s not where I want to be.”
Goldman, who studied theater directing at Bard, is a new entrant in a growing list of New York writers crafting indie comedy for the web. Taking cues from Woody Allen, Louis CK and, now, Lena Dunham, these showrunners have taken up the cause of creating the strange and subtle gay shows television is sorely missing. Goldman joins a growing list of New Yorkers as leaders of a strong and growing niche, including Desiree Akhavan and Ingrid Jungermann (The Slope), Tina Cesa Ward and Susan Miller (Anyone But Me), Matt Kirsch (duder), Michael Cyril Creighton (Jack in a Box), Dane Joseph (Drama Queenz), Eliot Glazer and Brent Sullivan (It Gets Betterish) and Vinny Lopez (Two Jasperjohns). Most of these shows take place far outside the gay bastions of Chelsea and the Village, locating stories in Harlem, Queens and Brooklyn.
The Outs started with one scene Goldman wrote, a fight between two exes, Jack and Mitchell, a relationship he swears is mostly fiction. “It’s not fantastical enough to be pure imagination,” he said with a chuckle. The series grew from that tension, the cast rounded out by Mitchell’s best friend, Oona (Sasha Winters).
Tens of thousands are now tuning in to spend time in his somber and witty world, lured by the mystery of Mitchell’s break-up with Jack (Hunter Canning) and the desire to see these unhappy people find love.
“The relationship is a character,” Goldman said. “And that becomes more clear as the narrative goes along. There’s a spectre over everyone.”
It may sound gloomy, but it’s the kind of rawness viewers are craving. This week, months after his small first round of crowdfunding, Goldman raised $22,000 on Kickstarter to complete the first season. It was more than double what he asked for, and the extra money will be going toward a bonus “Hannukah episode.”
But after the holiday episode Goldman has no plans to continue the series, despite its rising popularity. The problem is, of course, money. The Kickstarter funds will pay the cast and crew enough to get the next three episodes completed, but Goldman wants to make the show sustainable and pay workers what they’re worth.
“At a certain point the business model just has to become clear,” he said.
Distributors have approached him about possible deals, but each one wants to lock down the content. Goldman prefers it remain widely available, and no network has offered the kind of deal Felicia Day received (where Microsoft gets an exclusive window for The Guild, after which Day has license to do with it what she wants). “We have to keep it free and available,” he said. “I’ll go on our Facebook page, and I see someone from Kingston, Jamaica saying, ‘this is the only gay thing that I have, thank you for making it.’ I’m not going to take this away from that person.”
As great as The Outs is, it’s facing a dilemma known to many gay web shows — indeed, nearly all gay web series have been self-funded. While cable networks are ordering cheaper and artier shows, gay networks like Logo are shifting to the broader market for straight women, and channels like FX and HBO have shown little interest in gay content. Meanwhile, web networks like Netflix and Hulu are following traditional TV models and YouTube’s premium channel initiative has little, if any, gay or scripted content.
“There just aren’t enough gay people to make anything work, demographically. And I understand that. But there has to be something that proves that’s not true. Because I think it is not true. It’s the ‘community needs’ thing. The community needs complex characters.”
“What’s your favorite TV show about gay people?,” he asked me.
I sat in silence for a few seconds.
“There isn’t one!,” he exclaimed. “So I think that’s kind of a shameful position for us to be in right now. Not as a community, but culturally, that nobody can name me a show about gay people.”
We agreed. Television is undeniably great right now, from high-budget shows like Game of Thrones to the art-TV of Girls. But the industry hasn’t been too kind to gay-led shows of late, particularly if they’re not as broad as the rich, family-friendly gay men of current shows like Modern Family or upcoming sitcoms The New Normal and Partners. Goldman would love for The Outs to be on television — few producers would refuse TV money — but he’s also finding the web an exciting place to build community and tell stories.
Whether or not he makes the leap to season two, Goldman hopes The Outs is not the last word on quality gay entertainment.
“Please make more! Everyone please make more until someone ends up on TV, and that’s progress.”