Cypher Avenue Rating: 3.5 of 5      
The whole concept of a web series is both a gift and a curse. On one hand, it allows filmmakers to tell stories in cheap, unique ways outside of the traditional television formula. On the other hand, it potentially allows the artist too much freedom, giving way to odd experimentation. It’s a thin blade for the filmmakers to walk on. One slip and he or she could either completely lose the audience or alternatively gain thousands of YouTube followers.
This is what I thought while watching My Brother’s Keeper, the web series created by Lamont Pierre.  If the name of the filmmaker sounds familiar, its possibly because he’s been mentioned quite a few times on Cypher Avenue. He’s the creator of the popular new gay web series Freefall. What some may not know is he’s been producing film content featuring gay men of color for quite some time. My Brother’s Keeper is in its third season and the Freefall character of Xavier first debuted on Season Two of this series many years ago.
Season Three is where we begin this review. It throws pretty much a whole new batch of characters into the series and tells separate, thinly connected tales of people going through real-life issues. From the first few frames you get the sense that an artist is at work. The shots are actually thought-out and composed cinematically, rare for black gay content.
The first episode opens with Calvin (Valentine Loman), an attractive young masculine man who happens to be broke, homeless and hungry. This is another rarity in black gay films, we’re introduced to the character not as a gay man with a gay problem. He’s got a dilemma that seemingly has nothing to do with his sexuality. Homelessness amongst young men is a topic rarely touched on in a serious way in films by black filmmakers. Already I could tell this would be a refreshing and unique story. I was already about to give this show 5 stars….Until the very next scene came.
Scene number two shows Calvin meeting Miles (Tamario Fletcher) on a “hookup” (they initially met off-screen when Calvin helped Miles with his groceries. Men actually do that for other capable men apparently. On one hand a one-night-stand seems typical of a film featuring a black gay character. The obligatory hookup scene. However having the knowledge of Calvin’s homelessness, we’re able to add a different context to this familiar scenario than we’ve seen before. I immediately began to wonder how many men had I “hooked up with” in the past who were actually homeless or dealing with major hidden life issues. So far, I was very impressed with the series.
As the scene of their first meeting played out, I really had problems hearing what was said. Although the visuals were striking in this film, poor audio can really take you out of the experience. This scene wasn’t the only one with this issue, throughout the series I had a problem hearing the dialogue. As I pounded at my “Volume Up” key (even though it was already at its max level) I was forced to drop review points from the the otherwise perfect score thus far.
From what I could gather, Miles wanted to have sex while Calvin just wanted a shower, something to eat and a place to sleep. Again, this is deep on many levels. Then Calvin’s cell phone rings. Wait, he doesn’t even have money for food but has a working cell phone? Never mind, even I will admit that my cell phone is more important than my nutrition and hygiene.Calvin showers, ends up spending the night with Miles and sleeping until noon the next day. It’s not even clear whether or not they even got around to doing anything sexually, but that works. This is clearly a move on Calvin’s part to get a roof over his head for the night. Miles shows his own insecurities by putting up with the  inconvenience, even goes out of his way to drop Calvin off somewhere. Where they do that at?
Already, I love this show and the characters because this gay storyline keeps surprising me. The filmmaker took a typical “hookup” encounter amongst gay men and flipped it on its head with unexpected subtext and character development.
We learn a great deal about the characters through visuals, not with then telling us in extended monologues and stiff dialogue.Things quickly go downhill. The next two episodes of My Brother’s Keeper have nothing to do with the Calvin and Miles characters. They weren’t even about gay characters or even about anyone Calvin and Miles knew. Then, after episode four, we don’t see or hear about them for SEVEN more episodes. Not that I needed every character to be gay, I just needed a clear narrative thread between the other stories presented. Not only that, many of the standalone non-gay stories were filled with melodrama and depressing, repetitive, piano stock music that didn’t help much either.

Again, this is where that experimentation mentioned in the beginning of the review comes into play. As an audience member, I really dislike being confused while watching an indie film or web series. I’ll give a filmmaker a little rope to try new things, but it’s a short rope…and most of them still manage to hang themselves with it. There’s too much other content out there competing for my attention, so I’m quick to move on.

The 9 other non-gay stories presented are interesting and engaging in their own right, but most of them are not connected in any logical way. Over 13 episodes, we’re introduced to at least 8 unrelated storylines. For the sake of keeping coherence in this review, we’ll stick to the 4 episodes that deal with the Gay characters, Calvin and Miles.

Both actors do a good job at adding nuance and dimension to their roles. This is likely a testament to the screenplay and direction as it’s obvious that the filmmaker wants us to take the work and the content seriously. It’s very effective.
As the episodes progress we see the relationship between Calvin and Miles grow. Oddly enough, it’s not the typical Gay fairy tale where these men meet, date and fall madly in love. These men actually end up together by mere circumstance, loneliness and codependency. Miles is bipolar with his own self-esteem and confidence issues. Calvin has very few friends, no job skills and relies on others to get by. This is a relationship built on convenience, not love. But this happens a lot in real life, yet its very rarely depicted in film. Very impressive and brave storytelling choice by the filmmaker.By the last episode we even see a little growth and evolution with both of the characters.
More impressive, 95% of the character development is completely unrelated to sexuality but sexuality stills remains in the forefront nonetheless. The four “Calvin and Miles” episodes of this series singlehandedly encapsulate everything we’ve been pleading for from young black gay filmmakers: The characters are “regular everyday guys”, they’re not stereotypes, they have lives outside of being gay while still not ignoring their sexuality and none of the scenes are over-sexualized soft gay porn. There was not one conversation on who was the Top or who was the Bottom. Not one scene in a gay club. Not a single scene where a person is outed or on the Down Low or spreading HIV. Not one scene that depicted being Gay was synonymous with deviancy. It was refreshing.
This was a fantastic watch, yet many people have never even heard of this show. I’m sure this caused much frustration with the producers of the project as they wondered why there wasn’t much support. I would argue that marketing may have played a small role in this but it’s more likely that the fractured storytelling and the rarity of “web melodramas” going viral were the ultimate reasons.
Regardless, this was one of the better web series I watched in my quest to find the top 10 best (and worst) black gay shows available on the Internet. I would have rated it higher if not for the inconsistent audio and the throwing of so many random, unconnected, melodramatic characters/stories into the pot. Sometimes more is not better. From what we understand, the filmmaker Lamont Pierre has much more in store for audiences with new web series, shorts and feature films on the horizon. Given the pros and cons that I’m sure he’s learned from My Brother’s Keeper and Freefall, he’s definitely one we’ll be on the lookout for in the future.
Swerve, breh.
– Nick D