What happens when three young women of the home-brewing, entrepreneurial, indebted millennial generation need to make a buck? They produce their own bootleg liquor and try to sell it for cash.
This is the set-up for Under the Table — a web series produced by Andra Whipple, Lauren Davis, and Hanna Bowens. Don’t be misled; this show is much more than a funny concept. Each episode is a fast-paced stream of comedy reminiscent of Arrested Development for its laugh-out-loud blend of the absurd and the dark. There is also a hint of Girls or Broad City in the unapologetic presentation of flawed female characters —characters that manage to be both hilariously adrift and (uncomfortably?) relatable.
I had the pleasure of speaking with two of the show’s creators about the benefits of shooting web series, including improv in a scripted show, and creating the kinds of female characters they want to see on TV.
Carrie Mullins: The setup for the show is great: three broke girls start to brew and sell their own hooch. Where did the idea come from? Did you decide to do a web series and then brainstorm ideas or did you come up with the idea for the show and then decide to execute?
Andra Whipple: Lauren and I worked together when we came up with the idea. We were out at drinks one night, lamenting the lack of representation of authentic women in media when we realized that we could create them ourselves. We love the bad person characters that typically get assigned to men, and we wanted to give those options to women. Lauren is incredible at realizing projects, we tend to call her a producer/writer and me a writer/producer. She was so confident we could do it that I was like, ok, hell yeah, let’s do this. Then we tried to pick an idea for the project. We were drinking, and Lauren went to college in Virginia, so she started pitching this great idea she had had in college about female booze brewers and it took off from there.
Lauren Davis: Back in college it was called “Bootlegging Babes” and I couldn’t get it off the ground. I’m so glad it was a failure then, because it gave me the opportunity to work with Andra on it. We both have very clear ideas of the kind of weird, morally questionable women we want to see in the media and I couldn’t be happier with the ones we’ve created so far.
We both have very clear ideas of the kind of weird, morally questionable women we want to see in the media
Mullins: I love the dynamic between the three women. There are so many laugh out loud moments (I can’t think of Lisa’s web ad without dying). What’s the writing process like?
Davis: YAY! Thank you. We started our writing process with a heavy emphasis on character development. We know so much about these characters that no one else may ever find out. This series was a reaction to the lack of diverse female representation we saw in media, so we really wanted these women to be well rounded and fully fleshed out, not just ideas of what a person might be. We also spent a lot of time laughing at jokes other people told us to cut. The ones that still made it are some of my favorite in the series (Lisa’s fear of ghosts).
Whipple: We started with Ang. She’s kind of the anchor in the group. We took the typical “mom of the group” often assigned to bigger women and turned it on its head. She would stab you in the back if she had to, or even thought she might have to. Then we made Lisa, who was incredibly fun to write and truly came to life the moment Michaela read the lines. She improv’d so much stuff we couldn’t fit it all in. Riley is smart, probably the one of the three who would best blend in with the rest of the world. She wants so desperately to be “normal” you’re almost rooting for her to find new friends.
Mullins: Web series are such a unique format. Can you talk a little about what you’ve found to be the challenges, and the benefits, of doing these bite sized episodes and hosting them on BitTorrent?
Whipple: Well the biggest pro of bite size episodes is that they’re more produceable. We made this whole series on a micro budget relying mostly on favors from our kind and talented friends. I think another thing that’s fun about them is they allow us to tell a more diverse story in 30 minutes than, say, a pilot would.
Davis: Luckily the benefits outweigh the challenges! The hardest part is actually getting people to watch your series. It feels like we’ve been begging people to look at our work for a year: first when we were pitching it around to distributors and again now that it’s available on BitTorrent.
another thing that’s fun about [web series] is they allow us to tell a more diverse story in 30 minutes than, say, a pilot would
Mullins: You guys live in LA, home of traditional media. How do you see web series, both yours and in general, fitting into that landscape?
Davis: I work almost entirely in digital content so my life is filled with web series and web videos. Even though the market is very saturated, it’s an amazing time to create web content. There are so many distributors to partner with and platforms that will cover you if you self distribute. I’ve seen a lot of series get picked up for larger web distribution or turned into TV shows (Andra works on one of them). Plus, it’s a great way to grow creatively outside of the 9–5 thing that pays your rent.
Whipple: Lauren and I both started in LA in digital media. I now work in traditional TV, but I still feel like web is a great market for up and coming artists. You can do so much with a relatively small budget, and I think that can show how valuable you are as a writer or a producer or what have you- what you can do on a small budget can prove how well you’d do with a big budget, y’know?
Mullins: Do you guys have any web series that you love/would recommend?
Davis: 2 for me! First off, check out The Fat One on YouTube by Katherine Alyse. It’s romantic comedy between a chubby girl and herself. I did some pre-pro for the second season which will be out soon so BINGE WATCH SEASON 1!! Also, if you loved Carl, the cop in Under the Table, Shane Crown, the actor, has his own series, Idiot House, also on YouTube in which he plays a very funny, very different character.
Whipple: ONE HUNDRED PERCENT The Fat One. Personal favorite in so many ways. This isn’t a series but Sara Schafer made this incredible one off video about women “Rape Lying” which is really amazing satire. Also I think “Feminist Babysitter” is pretty cute.
February 16, 2017