WEB SERIES REVIEW: No Shade
Back in late February, we got an email submission about a new show called No Shade. Admittedly, It took me awhile to finally get around to seeing the show given my crazy busy schedule. Now that I finally have digested all of the released episodes, many people may be curious to know what a cynical, pessimistic guy like myself actually thought about the show.
I wish I could say that’s where the Sex And The City cliche’s end. Seriously, gay men have been (consciously or unconsciously) digging in that same well ever since the HBO show premiered back in 1998. (EDIT: I’ve been informed by creator Sean Anthony that the opening shot is actually an homage to the 1996 film, THE CRAFT. Creative, but my comparison still applies, lol) We still have the same Sex and the City archetypes (ie: The Wise Whore Friend, The Innocent soft-spoken Friend, The Wisecracking Friend, etc). We still have the same feminine gay media stereotypes (look, the flamboyant fabulous gay man with invisible bangs! We’ve never seen that before!).But you know what, as much as the cynic in me wanted to throw shade on No Shade (lazy pun intended), after watching the show’s first episode the pros definitely outweighed the cons.
First of all, while the tired cliché of four gay best friends is the basis of this web series, there was a successful attempt to create actual chemistry between them, unlike many other gay shows. I believed these people would actually hang out with each other. On top of that, each individual is given plausible life obstacles outside of “being Gay.” You can’t help but to get attached to one or more of these (consistent) characters as the episodes progressed.
Surprisingly, many of the intended jokes are (believe it or not) actually funny. No Shade is about a certain extreme group of gay men (and one woman) who live a certain outrageous type of gay lifestyle, no more or less than that. And they do it in a funny, clever way.
In the pilot, we’re introduced to Noel Baptiste (David Brandyn), an attractive masculine (ish) young painter still living with his demanding, anti-gay, soon-to-be-deceased mother (who’s face we purposely never fully see). Apparently, she dies at one point and the entire series is a flashback from a few weeks earlier. I’m not sure if this even matters since it’s not even acknowledged in later episodes (weird #Fail on the writer’s part…hopefully it will all make sense later) coincidentally, this series begins much like the web series In The Deep, a gay guy has a problem and assembles his best friends to discuss the issue. In this case, one-by-one we’re introduced to “Noel’s Arc” (yes there are many similarities to the Patrik-Ian Polk series). Through comedy and a little visual creativity, we’re given insight into each of the characters. For example, when self reliant transgender make up artist Danielle Williams (Tamara M. Williams) calls choreographer Kori Jacobs (Donnie DuRight), we see that he’s still in bed. It’s only after their conversation does the filmmaker reveal (in a wide shot) that he’s actually sleeping on a living room floor. That may seem insignificant, but from an independent filmmaking standpoint, it’s creative and visually reveals character.
The group then assembles at friend Eric D. Stone’s (Terry Torro) apartment where we put the final nail in the coffin of creative doubt. In unexpected flashbacks (within a flashback apparently, dead mother remember) we get some backstory on the characters as well as a little comedy. No Shade seems to walk the fine line of being a serious drama and an abstract laugh-out-loud comedy, even if the laugh comes from shaking your head at how ridiculous it is at times. This bizarreness is proven with each new introduction of an oddball supporting character such as Noel’s Mother (“Hurry up and buy”), House-Mother Pattie Alchemy, Joe the Roommate and Perverted Pete, all adding chuckles of their own.When it comes to slang, the title says it all. It took me a long time in my tenure as a gay man to learn the term “Shade” but now I hear both women and straight men use it in everyday vocabulary. The writer of this web series, Sean Anthony, seems to pull out all of the gay terminology from the last decade and lump it into the series. If you didn’t know fem gay slang before, you will after watching this show. To be honest, that adds to the comedy. Half my laughs came from the amazement that people actually say these gay slang words, let alone figuring out what they actually mean (ie: SnatchBox). Not that I’ll be adding them into my own vocabulary, but these touches add to the “world” of No Shade just as the unique terminology used in Seinfeld added to that show’s distinction and mythology.
The acting helps sell a lot of that too though. Not one of the main characters seemed unauthentic or forced. Plus, its clear that there’s a lot of comfortable ad-libbing going on while filming, adding to each performance’s personal contributions. Every character is given his/her chance to shine in their own storylines.
For example, Eric tells a “hookup” to come on over to his apartment and requests that he wear clean socks. When he arrives, its revealed that the hookup is actually a paraplegic in a wheelchair. As he sips his ‘Mer-lot’ wine Eric asks, “How did you get up here because there’s no elevator in this building? Did you teleport? ” The hookup responds, “Never mind that, I got on clean socks!” He then comically flails his small, socked stumps-for-feet back and forth. Nice.
On top of all that, sprinkled into the scenes of comedy are revealing dramatic scenes about character such as Noel’s mother’s illogical religious justification for her homophobia, the confidence and internal satisfaction gained by Danielle’s gender identity transitioning and the dark-skinned Noel’s preference ONLY for light-skinned men, which sparks a debate. As Noel puts it: “Look, I just don’t like dark-skinned guys. It’s not that I think they’re unattractive; they’re just unattractive to me. People like what they like, right?” (Later on in the episode, Noel (“Noah”) coincidentally meets his light-skinned “Wade” named Mike.)Lastly, each episode ends with a cliffhanger directly leading into the next. Once again, this is small but creative and shows pre-planning in the writing and directing. I can’t tell you how many web series I see where I wonder if there was any thought put into them at all. It seems as if many of the filmmakers just randomly sit the camera somewhere and say, “Action” without even checking the frame or audio levels. In this series, it at least looks like Sean Anthony put a little creative effort into the production.
So while No Shade does get a reduction in review points for “borrowing” cliches from other shows and adding on to more than a few gay media stereotypes, it gains so much more points for the new creative spin it puts on those same old clichés. Consistent character development and clear conflicts kept me engaged, with each episode being better than the last. Also, the show manages to maintain a level of quality despite its low budget. While I hear MANY excuses from “veteran” filmmakers on why they can’t achieve decent sound and visuals, this new talent pulls both clean audio and in-focus, well lit camera-work with possibly fewer resources than the gay filmmakers who have been doing it for years.
Also, show concept and execution matters. While not yet on their level, this series is definitely slightly inspired by off-the-wall shows like 30 Rock and The Office, which is a good thing for black gay content since it helps the series stand out from the rest. Like Cypher Avenue, “No Shade” doesn’t speak to or represent everyone in the black gay community but it definitely does a good job working in its lane. Although they don’t pretend to depict the lifestyle of the masculine gay black man, that doesn’t mean those same men (like myself) won’t enjoy getting a peek at the lives of fem and transgender gays told in a creative way.
In just five episodes from Sean Anthony, we may have seen the introduction of a welcomed new creative voice (with longevity) to add diversity to the black gay media community.
– Nick D
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