Thursday, May 9, 2013

YouTube women's channel WIGS worth a look

"Lauren," an original online drama series about rape in the military, is proving to be especially relevant this week, as the Pentagon on Tuesday released a report that shows a rising trend of unreported sexual assaults in the military. The show, which follows a servicewoman wanting to report a rape but learning just how heavily the deck is stacked against her, tracks even more closely to revelations earlier this year that the man who shot and killed two Santa Cruz police officers was twice accused of sexual assault while serving in Hawaii, but was allowed to be discharged in lieu of a court-martial.

The YouTube channel that "Lauren" is a part of, WIGS, is also on the relevance wagon this week. The channel's purpose is to offer original series, short films and documentaries, all with female leads. Although there are a few such shows on network TV -- "The Good Wife" and "Parks and Rec" come immediately to mind -- it's still very much a man's medium. Case in point: Fox just announced eight new shows for the 2013-14 season that skew very heavily male. (Ironically, Fox recently entered into a partnership with WIGS.)

The men (yes, men) who dreamed up WIGS wanted to tap into the growing number of women who are watching online programming. If it sounds like just an online version of Lifetime, at least think of it as more "Army Wives" than "Terrible Movie of the Week."

There are 13 shows, all named after their main character. Episodes run about 8 to 10 minutes, and the number of episodes in a series varies. (The first season of "Lauren," for instance, consists of just three episodes. Compare that with the second season of "Blue," which has 26.) The production value is high, and the stories run deep. And the list of actresses is astounding: Jennifer Beals, Julia Stiles, Maura Tierney, America Ferrera, Virginia Madsen, Kathleen Quinlan, Rosanna Arquette, Catherine O'Hara and Jena Malone, to name just a few. You'll also recognize a lot of the men: Gary Cole, William Petersen, Eric Balfour, Michael C. Hall, Sydney Poitier and on and on and on. In other words, this is some serious business.

WIGS only recently came onto my radar, so I'm still exploring. But from what I can tell, "Lauren," which is kind of the flagship show for the 1-year-old channel, appears to be the only real "message" show. The others just offer good stories. "Blue" so far is the one that's grabbed me most. Julia Stiles plays a mom who sometimes works as a prostitute to make ends meet. The heart of the show deals with her relationship with her teenage son, who's especially bright but is growing troubled with the secrets he knows his mom is keeping. (The actor who plays her son, Uriah Shelton, is going places.) And Blue is just trying to keep it together as she's confronted with a past that clearly damaged her.

Another one worth checking out is "Christine," starring America Ferrera as a woman at a speed dating event. As the men rotate through her table, it's slowly revealed that her presence there is not what it seems. I was less impressed with "Audrey," a quirky but substance-free comedy starring Kim Shaw as an unapologetic foodie who gets a chance to rise in the world of culinary TV.

A fair amount of the shows are written and directed by the creators of WIGS: Jon Avnet, director of "Fried Green Tomatoes" and "Up Close & Personal," and Rodrigo Garcia, whose experience writing and directing HBO's "In Treatment" translates well to the one-act-play-type format of these series. But importantly, a lot of the shows on WIGS are written and directed by women, who continue to struggle to find a place behind the camera in Hollywood.

You can check out WIGS -- which stands for Where It Gets Silent, or Spicy, or Sassy, etc., depending on the show -- at For more of my thoughts on WIGS, jump to 11:39 in the video below.

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