By Liz Shannon Miller
Adulthood, am I right? Just the worst. Best to give up while the getting’s good, and go back home.
That’s the place from which “Oh, Liza,” an independent web series which premiered last month, begins. Created by Cat Coyne and Kaitlin Schuster, directed by Ellie Heyman, and funded by a $20,000 Kickstarter campaign, the show tracks the titular Liza (Schuster) as she returns to her suburban home from New York City. Her “indefinite” visit is a surprise to her parents, who have a surprise for her as well — in her absence, they have rented out her room to Brendan (Alex Mickiewicz), a 28-year-old stranger.
The narrative ground “Oh, Liza” treads is pretty familiar — off the top of my head, I can think of three different movies released in the last few years which bear a striking resemblance to the premise.
But there are two things that stand out. One, the twist of a new tenant taking over Liza’s place in the house is relatively unique, and Liza and Brendan’s relationship sparks with both conflict and maybe, just maybe, something flirtatious. It helps that Schuster and Mickiewicz have great chemistry, and watching them banter is an interesting highlight.
The second, and by far most important, element of the series is how (unlike those movies I could think of), “Liza” foregoes the cliched dramatic opening sequence that shows the protagonist’s life falling apart.
Instead, we start with Liza on the front doorstep of her childhood home, demanding re-entry into her old life — and we have no idea why she’s abandoned the exciting life she led in the big city. We don’t know what awesome job she held. We don’t even really know her sexual orientation. And thus, Liza herself is like the island on “Lost” — an intriguing mystery to be solved.
Unlike the island on “Lost,” though, “Oh, Liza” will probably provide satisfactory answers in a prompt fashion.
Four episodes in, production values are top-notch, and the series has done an excellent job of building out the world and letting the audience get to know the characters. Liza’s high school friends Callie (Lily Narbonne) and Maddie (Whitney Maris Brown) sometimes toe the line of being over-the-top, and Anne Gottlieb as Liza’s mother Celeste has the disapproving mother trope maybe a little too down. But it’s a New York cast with heavy theater credits, and overall they bring a realness to each scene.
There are some factors that stretch credibility — a 25-year-old without a Facebook account? But there are plenty of touches that make “Oh, Liza” work as a a portrait of disaffected 25-year-old-ness without feeling like a “Girls” copycat. Which is the thing about using a familiar premise: If your voice is unique enough, you can still stand out.