Article was written by: Victor Williams
Web series have been around since the late 1990s. Over the last two-plus decades tens-of- thousands of writers, directors, and actors have created series to showcase their talents – all with the hopes of becoming big Hollywood stars and household names. However, the vast majority of internet series have fallen flat for a variety of reasons: poor acting, bad direction, stilted writing, cheap production values.
Web-series have had a fraught history: In 2008, the creators of thirtysomething sunk millions into the webseries Quarterlife. NBC decided to develop the concept into a series. It lasted just one episode. Also in 2`008 Darren Star developed WeNeedGirlfriendsfor Sony Pictures and CBS. WeNeedGirlfriendswas created by amateur filmmakers Steven Tsapelas, Angel Acevedo and Brian Amyot. CBS and Sony spent two-years and tens of millions of dollars developing the show. The pilot tested so badly that Tsapelas, Acevedo, and Amyot were fired and the project scrapped. Issa Rae’ mega-hit 2016 HBO series Insecurewas based on her web-show Awkward Black Girl. Rae’s prodigious talent, endless charm, and brilliant writing make her success all but destined. No one has ever come close to following in her footsteps.
The fact is that there are a ton of web-series out there and none of them are very good or even watchable beyond the first ad-roll. Imagine my chagrin when I was asked to Sharan Gupta’s new series, Bearded. Beardedis a modern day relationship series about lovelorn 20- somethings. I was prepared to slog through a terrible series. I saw a rough cut of the series, which is still in post-production and I was pleasantly surprised. Sharan Gupta’s ambitious web series Beardedis wonderful, and brilliant.
The eight-episode series follows free-spirited K, played by Ketra Long. K lives with her boyfriend and best friend, Derek, played by Kevin Le. One day, K catches Derek in bed with another man – K realizes that she is Derek’s beard, hence the title Bearded. The series follows K’s struggle to deal with her feelings for Derek while still pretending to be his girlfriend. Derek is not out to his parents and he needs K to play along until he works up the courage to come out. The show has everything: deft and relatable humor, unrequited love, high stakes family drama, and realistic LGBTQ representation. Sharan Gupta’s casting of Long and Le is a masterstroke. They look as if they were made for this project. Sharan Gupta’s series is cut from the exact same cloth as Transparentand Love,Simon. Beardedis light, fun, and very-well crafted. Long and Le are well casted. They take a well-treaded premise and make it fresh with their charm and breezy style.
The real shining star is director Sharan Gupta. Gupta shows skill and exceptional talent with the camera and shot selection. He gets so much out of his young actors that it’s hard to believe Gupta himself is so young. Gupta makes the series his own, crafting every scene and composing every shot with the deftness and expertise of a seasoned pro. If there is any single element that will start the resurgence of the web-series as a serious art form it’s Gupta’s unparalleled vision. Gupta’s direction marks him as one of the premiere directors to watch. Gupta takes every single element of the production and makes it his own.
Gupta’s production design is simple and works very well. The costumes he sleeted are not garish and fit the style of the characters. His music choices are put him in the category of Edgar Wright, each track enhances the raw human emotion the viewer will feel in every scene.
Gupta’s shooting locations give us a nice view of hipster Los Angeles. Sharan Gupta’s cinematographer, Nishant Prabhakar, uses of light and color is wonderful. The series, which is solely edited by Gupta, is leisurely and gives the scenes and the actors time to breathe. Sound design is on point. Gupta’s shows restraint blending all these elements together. The series tone is the perfect mix of humor and drama – it does not bombard your senses. He teases them, but you never feel as if it’s too much.