Interview: Jane Espenson and Brad “Cheeks” Bell on “Husbands” Season Two

Husbands creators Jane Espenson and Brad Bell

Husbands the Series took the web by storm, delighting audiences with a fresh gay take on on some classic sitcom ideas. It was so well received that fans demanded more, and were willing to pay for it, funding the second season via a very successful Kickstarter campaign. As creators Jane Espenson and Brad “Cheeks” Bell prepare to screen the first season two footage at Comic-Con this weekend, we sat down to chat about the series, and what to expect in season two.

AfterElton: So Husbands the Series, season 2! Not many webseries make it to a season 2. How excited are you?
So excited. Like really excited. The fans were our network, and they renewed us with Kickstarter. And they made it all possible.

AfterElton: Well that’s what made it so exciting was that you did it with KickStarter, with the fans. Part of me almost hates that you had to do it outside the support of a network or studio or anything, but at the same time I think it’s real validation of what you’re doing.
I think that because it is the fans makes a lot of sense, and the fact that we don’t have an umbrella over us means that we don’t have anything over us with strictures telling us what we have to be.

Brad: I think that if we had the money and the suits, it wouldn’t be the show that we want it to be. I think that it means a lot that a network might not take a chance on a show like this because they don’t think there’s an audience for it. But not only is there an audience for it, they’re willing to pay money to see it.

AfterElton: Let’s talk about how it started. I remember reading Jane said that it didn’t start out as a marriage equality comedy, but that became the hook of something else you were writing, Brad.
I had developed a story for myself and Alessandra, who plays Haley. It was much more of a Will & Grace kind of story. It just didn’t feel like there was anything that hadn’t been done before. And it was fun, it was very much in the same tone, but like Jane said “What’s the hook?”

So we sort of moved on to separate conversation about I Love Lucy, about a married couple, and realized that’s our hook, and got really excited about it.

Jane: I think I probably said “What’s the Buffy of it?”

Brad: Exactly, the reason to tell the story.

Jane: The reason to tell the story. Why does the story need to be told right now.

AfterElton: That’s a very Joss thing to say though.
I think everyone who comes out of the Joss writing school goes out into the world and asks that question, what’s the reason, the emotional reason that we have to tell the story right now? So what actually seems like a very external reason like marriage equality actually becomes a very internal reason, what is going to put the character through something immediate and important. It’s separate from the external politics: Newlywed shows work, we haven’t seen one with a same sex couple. What emotions will this couple go through?

Brad: Sort of a model we looked at was Soapdish, which you know was about soap opera actors. What I love about that is how the characters react to having cameras on them. They’re celebrities, sure, but the way they react is very human, very universal.

AfterElton: But you didn’t really start out as just newlyweds. You started out as accidental newlyweds. You had the Britney Spears marriage.
Or Dharma & Greg. I felt strongly that the tension you get to a new romance, is this going to work, was so valuable. Go to the bookstore and look at romance novels and see how many of them are like a “sheik’s mistress” or odd arranged marriage concepts. Because even though they’re married, you want all that electric tension of dating, that they’re not sure. They’d like to know if the other one is as committed as they are. They don’t know each other yet.

Brad: And they’re so different. I’m not sure they ever would have stayed together if they didn’t have this thing to bind them. They might have dated for six months or something and then been like “You’re great, but someone over here is more interesting, bye!” But they’re really challenged to work through their differences because of the thing they aren’t willing to give up.

Jane: They would have never realized what a great match they were except, we, the writers, threw them together.

AfterElton: At the same time, you established, well, they woke up from a drunken romp in Vegas, so right from the start you established something that is absent from so many gay couples on TV, which is “They had sex!” That was unique, and that was the opener. Was that a conscious decision.
You’ll see that addressed more in season two. Brad was very articulate about the way gay people are desexualized on TV and we wanted to play against that.

AfterElton: It’s so big right now. The world is overrun with Glee. For example, the Glee Equality Project is fighting the different depictions of same sex couples affection on Glee, and you guys just jumped right into that in the beginning.
True, but it’s not even showing the sex. It’s not even about trying to make a show like Queer As Folk. The implication isn’t even there, like I love Lucy, where they slept in separate beds, because otherwise it would mean they’re having sex. Well, duh, they’re married. But you do get that with a lot of couples in modern narratives, because they’re desexualized. You’re safe if they’re not attractive, or they’re never in the context of something like a bedroom.

Jane: Or we know one of the actors is straight, so we know that nothing is too heartfelt.

Brad: “Oh, they’re just acting. There can’t be anything going on there.”

AfterElton: You’ve also started outside the framework of the “perfect gay couple, with the white picket fence, adopts the baby, and makes the right decisions.” They were grossly irresponsible at the beginning, but they’re still going to make this work. I found that to be an interesting layer you couldn’t have done on a network show.
Every underrepresented group goes through this. For a while, there were so few African-Americans on TV that when you had one, they had to be a paragon. And actors who wanted to play the villain role couldn’t find that part to play. And I think gay characters have started reaching that point where there are enough responsible people that you can mix it in and have the whole spectrum.

Brad: And you have the spectrum, you have not only their role in society, but their demeanor. You either had the fashionista, or the gay best friend, or the dude “I just happen to be gay.” I liked the idea of let’s have this kind of gay guy and that kind of gay guy and put them together and have some diversity within the minority.

Jane: That fascinates me because I’ve been in TV for 20 years, and I heartily believed, because we all believed, that if we put a gay guy on TV, let’s make sure that they’re not a “gay” guy, that they’re not feminine in any way. And now we’re at that point that we’re showing the spectrum, showing that being a “masculine gay” isn’t in any way better than being a “feminine gay.” We were buying into the femininity is weakness thing that had kept women down for years.

AfterElton: But you almost do have to have a spectrum before you can do that. Glee has eight out characters and still can’t manage to do that consistently, and you’ve got 2.5 gay characters, because let’s face it, Alessandra is pretty much a gay man (big laughter),at least in the show. But you still managed to get three personality types in a show with three characters.
Well, we were extremely lucky to find Sean (Hemeon) who is fantastic and definitely helps populate our show with different variety of types.

AfterElton: So you got the I Love Lucy vibe you were looking for, but you also ended up with an Odd Couple thing going on. Was that deliberate, or did it grow out of finding Sean?
It was on my part. I like the idea of sort of blending the DNA with something you’ve seen before with something new. It’s on the web, which is new, it’s marriage equality, it’s all very groundbreaking. Taking something like that and framing that in the narrative of something so familiar and so traditional. You make the statement that it’s classic and it’s been with us the whole time.


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