"At Stratford, on the twenty-second of April,
I'm still on a Edgar Lee Masters roll but I'm always willing to come back to my man Will. In the theatre department, we are currently holding auditions for A Midsummer Night's Dream and it irks me that I won't be here to play my dream role of Moth. Luckily, also in honor of the 450th birthday of Mr. William Shakespeare, I had Hulu's newest series to satisfy me in the long wait for his next play to be written.
Complete Works - an original new Hulu series created/directed/acted/written/produced/bought the duct tape that probably held set pieces together by Lili Fuller,. Straight out of college, making their own production company (Kingdom for a Horse Productions), these graduated theatre dorks decided to spend over three years making this, based on their own experiences with Shakespeare. I'm already hooked and I hadn't even watched the teaser yet!
I'll confess that I would have never had even heard of this show (I'm a netflix user myself) if the creators hadn't contacted me personally* - as it turns out, I have readers. And what kind of theatre dork blogger would I be if I didn't support people making their own work like I want to when I graduate?
"Complete Works is a new, 5-episode half-hour comedy series set in the world of a collegiate Shakespeare competition. Hal, a naive Shakespeare-obsessed Midwesterner, makes it to the final round only to discover that even theater geeks can be cutthroat."
First impression: Although I've already passed my first through eighth birthdays and my twelfth too, I want a Shakespeare birthday party. Masks required. I don't care that my birthday was last week - let's throw me and Will Shakes a Much Ado About Nothing party (it's funny, because I want to have much ado about not even my birthday).
In the first three minutes of the first episode of Complete Works, I was having flashbacks to high school, where my ninth grade English teacher praised me in our read-aloud sessions of Romeo and Juliet (I was Juliet and yes, it was also my birthday) and then to getting my own college acceptance letters (the big letters vs. the small ones!).
Minor spoiler/second impression: as much as I enjoyed poor Yorick's cameo, it was Yorick's skull being thrown against the dorm room wall and the subsequent cleaning up that had me hooked. And then (bigger spoiler): "She was shot. She was milking." Done. DONE. I've poured the wine and set aside the time to binge-watch the next five episodes, ignoring the pile of laundry on my bedroom floor.
Okay, from taking Acting for Media this semester and having a video major for a roommate, I have to appreciate the well-shot and edited scenes. Nicely lit, great sound quality, very professional! I mean, yes, it's Hulu, I expected it to be, but knowing that Hulu had nothing to do with the original filming, I'm more impressed.
- nitpick: this is the American Shakespeare Competition so why is it set in Italy? Anyone? Bueller?
Once the series starts getting into the actual Shakespeare - it's easy to say that Complete Works is to Shakespeare what Glee and Smash did for musicals. But the show's style feels more...raw. It kind of has a 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee vibe.
I have to add that I enjoyed every actor's performance (both in character and in Shakespearean character!) - special props go out to Joe Sofranko as Hal, who was the focus of the pilot and happily carried it the full twenty-five minutes.
In the reception scene, where we met most of the (I'm assuming) main cast, I'll admit that my first reaction (based on appearances alone) was "they are such musical theatre actors". The pretty, if quirky, faces; wide smiles - MT casting at it's best. However, I should not judge based on appearances: the well-casted cast, although probably are all musical theatre BFA graduates, are well-versed in Shakespeare and film acting. And in the show's own words referring to one character, "My god, he's British." Because, as we all know, Brits got us beat when it comes to Bill Shakespeare.
Although, that's not to say that the Shakespeare wasn't well-used, particularly in assigning Lady MacBeth's monologue to the blonde girl who will clearly be the ambitious one, aka the bitch according to Hollywood standards. And the names? Regan? Oliver? Hal?! The writers clearly know their Shakespeare and chose to write about it in a refreshing, contemporary way that avoids all arguments on whether the Earl of Devonshire something or other actually wrote the plays.
Based on the pilot episode alone, I do have to say: I wish the writers could write relationships as well as they do the Shakespeare. I thought the briefly shown Taylor would be a role bigger than her childhood cameo. And the competitors' interaction - it came too close to the stereotypical and sometimes true side of Smash-style levels of MT bitchiness that I have surprisingly easily avoided in four years of college theatre. Since it is only the pilot episode though, I'm not giving up yet - Regan, Leo and Hal show awesome potential for kick-ass character development and I will give bonus points to anyone who can casually bring up The Rape of Lucrece (although I cringed when Pauline claimed not to know Lavinia from Titus Andronicus - how can you not?). I do have hopes that the rest of the cast will break free of their pre-written stereotypes post-pilot, even with such short episodes (and an even shorter season, already available in full on Hulu Plus and Hulu, in case you are a non-Hulu user like me).
And that was the sadly short pilot episode of Complete Works. I do need to do my laundry and really need to re-fill my wine glass - but while the laundry is laundering, I have four more episodes to happily watch and see if the rest of the series will live up to my expectations of 4 and 1/2 out of 5 Yorick skulls.
*Disclaimer: they contacted me. I responded back of my own free, unpaid will. I'm easily flattered by the thought that people might actually want to read my work.