Seeking Sublet Seeks to Tell Stories of NYC Rooming Horrors, in Fun New Comedy
By Jeanette Bonner
The cast and crew of Seeking Sublet
The series Seeking Sublet is about two twenty-somethings living in a city (presumably New York) “seeking” the elusive Third Roommate. I use seeking loosely because you don’t actually see them seek. . . roommates just seem to happen upon them, and bad ones, at that. There’s the man-child who sleeps on the couch, doesn’t have a job, and (we assume) doesn’t pay rent, but is just, ya know, the “cool guy” everyone wants to hang out with, regardless. There’s the sex-crazed ex-roommate who was kicked out but, because she apparently made hundreds of copies of keys, just pops in – sex-crazed lover in tow – to say hey whenever she wants; the loudly-fornicating couple we only hear but don’t see, and of course, the homeless “maintenance guy” who just kinda lives in the hallways. And a bevy of additional characters (sisters, gay best friends) who love to just occupy this space as if regular NYC living was just one, big, college dorm.
It is a fantasy life of faux dilemmas when renting and subletting is a torture that actually REALLY haunts New Yorkers: like couples who need a third to just help pay the frickin rent, the sounds-too-good-to-be –true cool Williamsburg apartment that people move into even though it isn’t finished being built, the crazy ex (or current?) roommate that makes you wonder why the hell you put up with this crap as a fully grown adult with a paying job and I should really just move out to the suburban Midwest somewhere and not have to deal with the MTA!! Etc.
Everyone in New York has a roommate horror story. Really. Just ask them. Ask the author. (She would LOVE to tell you about an insanely entitled ex-roommate nicknamed Princess and how she nearly killed her.) But Seeking Sublet isn’t a web series imbued in that reality. It’s the hazy fantasy of that problem, where no one really hates each other and life is just a series of, well, bubbly sitcom-y situations. Like Perfect Strangers. If the misunderstood roommate syndrome of Perfect Strangers and the dysfunctional family weirdos of Arrested Development birthed a series set in the future with millennials, that would be Seeking Sublet.
Here’s the difference, ladies and gents. If you look on IMDB, Perfect Strangers – which aired on TV from years 1986-1993 – credits 37 writers on the series (17 of those were each responsible for only one episode, so I guess everyone got a shot back then?). Of those 37, only FOUR are women. Arrested Development, which officially was on air 2003-2008 (even though it’s since been re-picked up by Netflix), has 22 writers (only four got a single shot back in 2005, dunno what happened there) – and once again, only five women.
These imbalances are today still represented in all walks of Hollywood, which will be no shocker to anyone with access to a social media account. But if you start to look around the web series community, you will see a different world.
Chock full of wonderful web creators
At the “Seeking Sublet” NY screening: From L to R, back row: Cailley Frank-Lehrer (Producer & Editor of Seeking Sublet), Katie Tibaldi (Writer/Director/Co-Creator/Executive Producer of Seeking Sublet), Tyne Firmin (Co-Creator/ Director of series Merce), Charles Sanchez (Co-Creator/ Writer of Merce), Marzy Hart (Producer of series Slice and series Working On It), Anne Flournoy (Writer/Director/Creator/Executive Producer of series The Louise Log), Craig Coffman (Actor in Slice), Amanda D’Aquila (Creator/ Producer of series Bocce Ballers, and co-founder of the Brooklyn Web Fest). Front row: Rohana Kenin and Laura Frenzer (Creators/ Producers of series 47 Secrets to a Younger You), Jeanette Bonner (author) (Creator/ Writer/ Producer of series Ghost Light).
The women of Seeking Sublet: Cailley Frank-Lehrer, Katie Tibaldi, and Alex Zenn (Assistant Director).
In a recent article in Huffington Post, David H. Schwartz and Chris Hadley (a writer for Snobby Robot) called the indie web series the new indie film. They say that many new series come from content creators who have “desires to grow as a writer and actor, and most of all, his ambition to tell a story he can identify with.” (Nov 2015)
I find it significant that two male writers chose two male content creators (Rob Michael Hugel, I Hate Being Single, and Arturo Castro, Alternatino) to highlight and interview in their article. Cause from my perch on the ledge, all around me I see lovely, strong, badass ladies getting up off the couch and creating their own work. And why? Because we all want to tell stories that we as individuals can identify with. That means two things. That I, as a content creator, want to tell stories that are interesting to me. I happen to have a background in theater, so I wrote a web series about stagehands. It also means that I, as the female writer of this article, will choose to highlight female content creators, just as men might lean towards highlighting men.
But if Hollywood studios and TV execs continue to keep the majority of their writing staffs male, it’s no wonder that women are getting up, taking a stand, and creating their own work, thereby creating both a voice for themselves and an avenue for their stories and perspectives to be told. If women want to be represented better in this industry, well, we’re just gonna have to do it ourselves, aren’t we?
Seeking Sublet is great fun to watch, but what really hit home was the sense of family the cast and crew seemed to have, not just on set in filming the series, but at the screening party as well. Katie Tibaldi and her co-creator Josie Chai (who was not present at the screening I attended) have done an incredible job shaping a world that felt relevant to them, with wonderful people. In their own words:
“After 80+ roommates and subletters, countless arguments and way, way too many chore wheels, we felt that we had no choice but to make a series as an outlet for our pain. To our surprise, we discovered that we are not alone. In casting this series, we auditioned over 200 actors and were unable to find one person who didn’t have a bad roommate story to share. Even now on set, the anecdotes don’t stop. From crew to extras, everyone has had a bad roommate. Whether your roommate is your best friend or a Craigslist rando, there is bound to be drama. We understand. Seriously, we do. This is our therapy.”
And if THAT is the future of television, or the new “indie film” or whatever, I’m all for it. Whether it’s women like Katie and Josie or Latinos like Arturo Castro, if the internet is empowering people to tell their story and represent their community in a way that Hollywood won’t, then game on.
It’s our job to support them by watching. These underrepresented voices won’t continue without their audiences. Which makes us, as viewers, the awesomest third roommate in this tale of survival and making it happen, in NYC and beyond.