The idea of art imitating life is as old as Plato, but nowhere is it more apparent these days than in the online mini-series we're seeing popping up on Facebook and YouTube. Reflecting the reality of our pandemic-affected lives, they are at turns hilarious, poignant and honest, blending the mundane with the absurd.
First there was Love in Lockdown, a sweet romantic comedy that plays out over six online ukulele lessons. Lucy Durack (Wicked; The Letdown), who plays Georgie in the mini-series, wrote and pitched the script – and it only took 17 days from concept to completion. Durack was starring as Princess Fiona in Melbourne's run of Shrek the Musical when the pandemic hit. Suddenly out of work and with no creative outlet, she came up with the idea of a series recorded entirely on FaceTime, full of timely references of WFH, sourdough baking and online classes. Her longtime friend Eddie Perfect, likewise with a postponed schedule – he had just landed in Sydney to begin work on 9 to 5 the Musical – was co-opted into the role of Ned.
The biggest driving force for the fast turnaround was the fear that lockdown restrictions would end before production finished and Love in Lockdown would lose its relevance.
However, as it has become apparent that we're in it for the long haul, other series have emerged. Like Love in Lockdown, Loving Captivity is a 6-part series that was conceptualised at the beginning of the pandemic. It follows an almost-couple as they explore over Zoom, text messages and phone calls why their relationship never progressed. Co-writers Libby Butler and Lewis Mulholland received a City of Melbourne COVID arts grant that enabled them to start shooting as restrictions lifted and the series aired on Facebook in July.
Other series include Cancelled and Retrograde. The former, shot entirely on mobile from an apartment in Spain, was written in eight days and went on to be nominated for Best Drama at the Webfest Berlin Awards. The latter is a TV series, airing on ABC but with remote actors and director all filming in different locations.
What makes these series so compelling is partly their length – with the exception of Retrograde, each episode lasts for between six and 14 minutes. And with six episodes per series (10 in the case of Cancelled), you could easily binge-watch the whole series in one sitting.
Lee Naimo, online investment manager at Screen Australia, which has provided funding for Loving Captivity, Cancelled and Retrograde, says that the story still has to be well-written.
However, these shows are 'nimbler, quicker, at the cheaper end of the scale', an attractive proposition for actors, directors and producers on limited budgets and with social distancing requirements.
Ultimately though, as the world comes to grips with the impact of the pandemic, these shows are a reflection of our reality – at times mind-numbingly banal, at times anxiety-inducing – and reassure us that what we're experiencing is universal; we are not alone.
And, with the logistical challenges around filming and acting while social distancing and no clear end to the pandemic in sight globally, we can only expect to see more of these shows.