By Liz Shannon Miller
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When creative forces from mainstream Hollywood experiment with original web content, they tend to fit into one of two camps. There are the polished, high-profile branded series that make a big splash but never really bring in audience. Then, there are the more humble “let’s play” shows, which allow a large, recognizable cast to take a relatively modest budget and have some fun.
Shows arising from the latter category have a tendency to perform better, from the seminal “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog” to Yahoo’s award-winning “Burning Love.” This is in part because these shows, thanks to said large, recognizable cast, have an automatic fanbase to draw on — but also because despite these shows’ relatively modest production value, you can tell that those involved are having fun.
And that’s definitely the case with “Husbands,” which just premiered its third season on the new original content platform CW Seed. Created by Brad “Cheeks” Bell and Jane Espenson, the show draws on Espenson’s career in writing for shows ranging from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to “Battlestar Galactica” to bring in fan favorites for its supporting cast, while also, in the collaboration between Bell and Espenson, bringing a fresh, witty take to the subject of gay marriage.
The series begins with a hasty drunken marriage between flamboyant Cheeks (Bell) and more reserved Brady (Sean Hemeon) that for political reasons neither wants to annul. The drama has since focused on the pressures of being a publicly out couple that maybe doesn’t know each other as well as they originally thought; here at the beginning of the third season, Cheeks and Brady are planning to renew their vows, but the arrival of some special guests creates new complications.
After the first season of two-minute vignettes (which were later brought together as a 24-minute pilot), “Husbands” switched in season two to eight-minute episodes. The runtime math works out to be about the same, but the shift in rhythm works to the show’s advantage, perhaps because it allows the show’s strongest component — its characters and relationships — to really breathe.
“Husbands” is an unexpectedly quiet series. Given some of the more over-the-top character choices, that is a big factor in the show’s best moments, when it deviates from the more high-concept sitcom-y situations (such as the core of the second season, which focuses on a TV interview the guys do to improve their public image) and instead focuses on telling a story about two people in love.
The cast remains a veritable who’s-who of cameos from past Espenson projects: Previous seasons featured Dichen Lachman, Tricia Helfer, Felicia Day, Mekhi Phifer, Emma Caulfield, Amber Benson, and nerd cult figure and now superstar director Joss Whedon, while this season features Amy Acker and Seth Green in significant roles.
But it’s Bell and Hemeon who command the show’s focus, and over the first three seasons the pair have found a real natural chemistry which anchors the show, even when the two are out of sync. The witty banter might be what initially tracks you to “Husbands,” but it’s when you really start rooting for Cheeks and Brady that you know the show has its hooks in you.