by Jeanette Bonner
According to Wikihow.com, a bromance can be created in three simple steps.
“A bromance is a close, platonic friendship of love, support and
deep affection between two males. Sometimes awkward, yet always
steadfast, a genuine bromance is today’s way for two dudes to
say, “I love you, man!” But if you’re a guy who’s never had a male
best friend, finding your bro/mate can be challenging.”
Step 1: Meet friends by spending more time with guys. Step 2: Hold similar beliefs as the dude you want to bond with. Step 3: Meet guys engaged in similar work. Or, if you’re the comedic web series He’s With Me – Step 4: Have your friends set you up with their gay best friend.
A tale of true bromance, He’s With Me begins as a series about two men both in need of companionship, only one happens to be gay and one happens to be straight. Can two men of such different lifestyles find a common ground?
The idea for the series was conceived and penned by Jason Cicci, who also stars in the series. An active playwright and producer in New York since 1998, Cicci initially created a show called “The Men’s Room” as a “live sitcom” – that is, a live show with recurring monthly “episodes” – that were performed at The Duplex in NYC’s Greenwich Village in 2011. The show told the story of gay theatre critic Martin and his burgeoning friendship with straight ad-man Ted. Together with their married friends Valerie and Eddie along with comedic relief Benny (the men’s room attendant), Martin and Ted navigate the waters of contemporary manhood to explore their differences and universal sameness.
“I wanted to create a sitcom-style show as I’d always been a fan of the classic TV comedies,” Cicci explains. “When thinking of ideas, I thought of the comedic situations that would arise from my close friendship with a straight friend. From there, “The Men’s Room” was born.”
Transforming the show into a web series seemed a natural next step for Cicci. “I was seeking more experience in on-camera storytelling, and there’s an enormous freedom in creating web content. To be able to share my writing, producing and acting work in an online format is very gratifying. I knew I’d need a director, cinematographer and editor, and I was lucky enough to find all three in Sebastian La Cause, whose brilliant series Hustling had impressed me.”
Unique in its perspective straddling gay-straight male culture and friendships, He’s With Me landed Official Selection spots in the Brooklyn and Rome Web Fests as well as several LGBT film festivals. Its two main characters, Ted Adams and Martin Adams (clearly a match intended by the gods) explore the intricacies of social and cultural norms and stereotypes of what it means to be straight and gay. For example, does liking wine coolers make you seem gay? Is it fair to assume that you’re gay if you’re obsessed with dressing well or have taste in decor? Do only straight men go to baseball games?
While these questions could teeter on the verge of being reductive and contrived, He’s With Me succeeds in bringing these societal implications out into the open and into a place of understanding with its particular brand of cool, reserved comedy and quiet charm.
[MARTIN and TED hug.]
As an arrow. You?
Oddly I feel straighter.
It’s too bad, I was just getting used to your gayness.
“The by-product of the show has been the indirect education of how much we’re all alike,” Cicci explains. “The more I wrote, the more I wanted to explore what men over 30 face in regards to their relationships and occupations.” In fact, the further you get into the series, it becomes less like a comedic twist on “The Odd Couple” and more a serious exploration on what it simply means to be a man navigating modern adulthood.
Season One follows their friendship from the first awkward set-up through the trials of losing jobs, but it’s Season Two where the Adulting really goes through the roof, as Ted proposes to his girlfriend, Martin struggles with unemployment, Valerie and Eddie discuss having children and becoming foster parents, and Ted’s parents show up at his engagement party announcing they’re not actually his birth parents. Are we having fun yet?
I missed Ted and Martin navigating their awkward new friendship as things started to get more serious, so for me the most enjoyable part was watching the character Benny (played by the exuberant Ryan Duncan) take on the role of annoying little sibling, popping up at inopportune times as their restaurant server, a cabaret performer, a sentimental romantic crushing on Martin, and everything in between. Between justifying Benny’s presence and the classic comedic trope of everyone being conveniently in the same place at the same time (“I didn’t expect to see you here!” is the most frequently used line in the series), I found the tendency to over-moralize with lines like “It makes me feel like more of a man” and “Being a man is hard” a little easier to swallow.
But despite its ability to sometimes head into after-school special territory (e.g., chastising a 16 year-old boy for using the world “damn”), its charm comes in its ability to strip differences and show that we all struggle with navigating adulthood equally. At the end of Season Two, Ted seeks comfort from a priest, who says:
“People – they make all types of connections. That’s why we’re
here; that’s what we’re all striving for – some sort of connection,
any connection, with anyone or anything. I mean, you see it with animals
all the time; they bond with others that you would never think would
even tolerate each other.”
Ah, like the goat and the blind horse on Animal Odd Couples.
So, whether straight or gay, male or female, goat or blind horse, the show that starts out as a bromance ends up in actuality being a show about friendship, with the message that life’s natural trajectory can be difficult and that leaning on your friends can soften the blow. And isn’t that the best romance of all?
Watch He’s With Me on the show’s website.