It’s rare, even in big-budget silver screen fare to see children/young people portrayed in anything other than caricature form. Perhaps its ability to show two young girls as real people with powerful yet believable personalities is what makes “Olive and Mocha” one of the better (if not best) video series of its kind.
The story of how this Kickstarter-funded web series came to be is nearly as interesting as the handful of episodes that have made their way to YouTube. Writer/director/producer Suzi Yoonessi has created two versions of the show — the first one in 2011 developed for Universal Cable/NBC. The rights later reverted back to Yoonessi and writer Molly Hale, and after a failed attempt to work with a different studio, it was time to go the crowdfunding route. The $20,000 ask is to fund the series, but if $250,000 winds up in the till, a feature film will make its way to viewers.
Behind-the-curtain machination aside, “Olive and Mocha” has three crucial elements operating in harmony: great acting, insightful writing, and a great production feel. Played with a knowing innocence Olive (April Marshall-Miller) is counterbalanced by her worldly pal Mocha (Sophia Laurelin), and together they embark on life’s traumas. What takes the series to a new level is the unabashed approach to the narrative and dialog so brilliantly acted by these young women. For example, the episode, “Playing House” takes a run at love, marriage, pregnancy, and failed relationships — all in the span of two hours and 50 seconds. Seeing what might be considered adult issues through the eyes of Olive and Mocha adds deeper perspective and sensitivity than most network dramas.
Yoonessi hopes to produce four episodes of “Olive and Mocha” with Kickstarter money, and clearly she and Hale are on to something here. By the way, Yoonessi is no rookie at filmmaking and streaming content. She directed the first episode of Amazon’s wonderful kids series “Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street” and the award-winning film “Dear Lemon Lima,” which is available on Hulu and Amazon Prime. The ability to show kids as something more than stick figures is a gift, and “Olive and Mocha” is a manifestation of that latent.
On a final note, if you harken back to the original episode of “Olive and June,” you will notice different young women in the lead roles. Given the time span between the two versions, Yoonesi said, she had to find new actresses as the original players had gotten too old for the parts.
Let me start off with the fact I do not like “The Young Turks” — finding it pedantic, self-impressed, and pandering to alt.viewpoints without the reporting and deep fact-finding that should be the foundation of such programming.
That said, I admire the streaming empire that has spawned from Cenk Uygur and his team at “The Young Turks.” As a testament to the variety of online talk shows and news-ish programming from this Culver City, Calif.,-based media company, AOL On recently has picked up its content, extending the reach of this alternative/progressive news org. TYT’s organic growth via partnerships with Hulu, YouTube, Roku, and Al Jazeera’s A+ network has led to some massive audience numbers — the main TYT channel has scored more than 2 billion views on YouTube while one of its channels, ThinkTank has more than 600,000 subscribers on YouTube. And there’s plenty more where that came from. Uygur has wisely developed a spin-off strategy in which new news verticals come from other successful shows, allowing each one to cross-promote the other. That’s something even the veteran network news orgs have yet to figure out.
Thematically, the channels pretty much follow a similar format which can be termed “enhanced talking heads.” The presenters by and large are younger, fairly well-spoken individuals who deliver poised commentary in front of a green screen backed by standard graphics. In nearly every case, the “reporters” lack actual news-gathering experience (focus on nearly every case) and replace glib commentary for deep digging. But, such is the nature of what the news business has become circa 2015.
Let’s look at a recent four-minute segment of ThinkTank described as follows: “ Every day ThinkTank challenges preconceptions, exposes amazing new facts and discoveries, explores different perspectives, and inspires you to learn more about the world and the people around you.” On May 21, the topic was “Students Forced To Have Vaginal Exams In Class,” a story that focused on Valencia College’s requirement that female students had to have a transvaginal probe as part of their medical training. The team of Hannah Cranston and John Iadarola, who jointly posses zero days of news experience (at least so says their Linkedin profiles), opine in front of a series on on-screen quotes for the better part of four minutes reaching not much in the way of a conclusion. Nothing especially bad here, but the news-light approach is a turnoff to anyone in search of meaningful, carefully vetted content.
It’s important to rewind the a key point here: TYT is the perfect daily news zeitgeist for millennials who cannot find the sort of evocative chatter that resembles talk radio in long-standing network brand names. While those of us who grew up on the early days of “60 Minutes” and Walter Cronkite might take exception with this approach to news, advertisers care less about Pulitzer Prizes and more about how many times the latest story on Silk Road is retweeted.
And that’s the way it is.
The best three adjectives to describe the web series “My Life in Sourdough” are quirky, cute, and niche-y.
Two episodes into season two, we follow the life of Marie, a Parisian living in New York who is obsessed with her sourdough starter and on the hunt for a fairytale romance. Individually, the two themes are strong, but they run into a bit of trouble when they finally intersect. Falling in love with your dog or even your TV set is normal, falling in love with your starter culture is a bit…strange. Take it from me, the husband of a sourdough aficionado, the bond between person and starter is a mystical marriage, and one that requires constant feeding, but the metaphor takes a wrong turn when you find it next to you in the sack.
Season one is a delight, full of whimsy and recipes. Nestled between the seven episodes (five in season one, two in season two) are actual recipes, which are outstanding and generally focus on sourdough-based cooking (you’d be surprised at what you can do) with fermenting rearing its bacterial head in the latest show. The first five of Marie C’s misadventures (her real name is Marie Constantinesco) include elements that explore the intersection of food and love. Marie falls for a dance instructor (he turns out to be gay) and a Jamaican chef (who promptly leaves town) but appears undaunted on her quest for personal fulfillment.
Season two goes in the odd direction of Marie’s romance with the Ball Jar that contains her sourdough. The misdirection is neither clever nor insightful and would have been find if it were contained to one show. Season two, episode two continues that painful plot thread. Let’s hope it ends there.
I get it. The passion one feels for an object of their own creation — especially one that is nearly eternal (sourdough more or less lasts forever), but there has to be a better way to express that bond. Nonetheless, this is a quirky, cute, and generally fun show.