After months of teasers, anticipation, too much talk about booze and underwear, and a whole lot of hype, Crystal Chappell's Venice premiered last night amidst much fanfare. Fangirls welcomed the first installment with predictable enthusiasm: for so many, Crystal Chappell can do no wrong. Others declared it laughable and a failure. Both the praise and the shaudenfraude are premature and, I suspect, knee-jerk reactions. People who have invested months of of their time, and God-knows-how-much money supporting this project in anticipation of it being the great white hope of the lesbian community were going to declare it a work of brilliance, no matter what. People who decided, long ago, that they were rooting for the project's failure, whether because they dislike Crystal Chappell, hated Otalia, or were turned off by unsavory behavior on Twitter were going to declare Venice the worst show, ever, no matter what.
In my opinion, it's too soon to tell, either way.
Details, details, details
Before I even talk about the episode, itself, there are other details that really do need to be addressed.
First off, Venice is a web series. Why, then, have there been serious problems with the Venice website from day one? And why have these problems never been properly addressed? It was clear, very early on, that a server capable of handling heavy traffic would be needed for this project. The Venice team has supposedly upgraded to a bigger server at least twice, now and yet, on the very day of the show's premiere, www.venicetheseries.com crashed yet again. Last night, the night of the show's premiere? The Venicetheseries.com crashed, forcing most to view the first episode on Youtube.
All of this is irrelevant, anyhow, I guess, because the Venice website, when it was accessible, was a mess. The design is sloppy and illogical, and the site is full of stuff that simply doesn't belong there. Why, for instance, does the Venice website include community forum threads covering such topics as football, how to meet women, and Bad Girls? It's clear there has been absolutely no moderation of the community forums, and no efforts to keep the forum threads focused on Venice. Note to Crystal, Hope and Kimmy: Venicetheweries.com is not a series' website. It's clearly a social networking site for lesbians. (Sorry I can't give a more concise list of irrelevant topics covered in the Venice community forum area; the site is yet again down as I write this, making it impossible for me to get a complete list)
If the Venice website includes lots of irrelevant content, there has also been some very important stuff missing. Up until last night, there was no description of the series, itself. No character profiles. No actor bios. Until two days before the premiere, the specific details of the subscription rate was not made public on the Venice website. In fact, it was through an article in an obscure Israeli magazine that many fans found out about the $9.99 subscription rate. This lack of information until the 11th hour reeks of an unprofessional project.
Much has been made of this subscription scheme. Lots of people are angry about it. While I think $9.99 per season is too steep (there will be several seasons a year, with each season consisting of approximately an hour of actual footage), I think it's perfectly reasonable for the producers of Venice to charge for a subscription to this series. It has to make money somehow, and major sponsorship has either eluded the project or not been sought. The $9.99 rate, IMO, should cover an entire year of Venice. To those who claim they never knew Venice would have a price tag attached to it, I call bullshit: there has been talk of some sort of pricing scheme for this show for months- basically since Crystal Chappell first started talking about the project. The fact that there is a subscription rate is perfectly fair and reasonable - people can choose to subscribe or not subscribe, just as we do with cable television. The fact that the specific details of this subscription scheme were kept under wraps until just a day before Venice premiered? Unprofessional and, IMO, unacceptable. Not the way to treat loyal fans.
The set-up: Episode one of Venice is short and sweet. It does a decent job of setting things up. For anyone who knows nothing, at all, about the premise the following is made perfectly clear: Gina and Ani used to be either girlfriends or fuck-buddies. Ani wanted a serious relationship. Gina didn't. It's clearly a dance they've been doing for a while.
Jessica Leccia: Of the three actors featured in episode one, Jessica Leccia looks most comfortable in front of the camera, and is the most natural.
A realistic touch: Unlike the typical morning-after girl on television, CC's Gina wakes up looking as if she really has just woken up - no make-up, morning eyes, less than perfect hair. Refreshing.
What doesn't work
Cringe-worthy Cliches: The initial shot, panning across a floor littered with Gina and Ani's discarded clothing must have been set up and filmed by Captain Obvious. I guess some people think this shot is sexy or enticing. I think it's just an example of lazy film-making. It's a cliche that has been used to death on both daytime and nighttime television. It's a shot that we really never need to see, again.
Lack of realism: I understand that this isn't a porn film, but why are two women who we are to believe stripped off in a fit of passion, leaving their clothing strewn all over the floor, in a mad rush to have sex waking up with clothing on? Lesbians have sex with tank tops and panties on? Really?
The dialogue: I know a lot of fangirls loved the morning-after talk, but if you stop and actually think about it, it doesn't make sense. The conversation these two women have in bed about Ani having returned to town? It's a conversation they would have had the night before, not the morning after. Again, it's a cliche of bad television and filmmaking: awkward use of dialogue to recap. The most annoying thing about this is that it could have easily been avoided - dialogue that provided a smooth recap would be easy enough to write. Instead of Gina and Ani having a conversation that they obviously would have had the minute they ran into one another at the bar, why not just refer to such a conversation for the audience's sake? Gina: I cant believe you've been in town for days and never thought to call me. Good thing I ran into you, or I never would have known you were back.
Also, if there were ever a phrase that should be banned from television and the movies, it's this one: "I can't do this. We've been down this road so many times."
Note to Kimmy: If this is the great, amazing writing we've been hearing about for so long, you're in trouble.
The soundtrack: I've noticed that even some of the most ardent fangirls are making some noise about how annoying the soundtrack is. I don't like the song but, even if I did, it's too loud and it overpowers the action and the dialogue. Hopefully the complaints about this will be taken seriously by the Venice team, because the music is really over-the-top. Use it as a theme song, and tone it down for background music. No one is watching this to hear that droning voice. They're watching to see and hear the actors act and the story unfold.
Believability factor: Sorry, but I just wasn't feeling it between Gina and Ani. Where Olivia and Natalia had mad chemistry, for some odd reason the same actors playing other characters just didn't take me there and believe them as a couple. Maybe it's because the bed scene felt more like an obligatory bit of girl-on-girl action for all the Otalia fans who got ripped off than anything else. I didn't find it believable or sexy. I didn't feel as if I was watching two characters who'd just had sex and wanted to have more sex with one another; I felt I was watching two actors who were awkwardly pretending they'd just had sex.
The Future of Venice
Who can say? It's much too soon to say where this show will end up going. The fans who have decided Venice is the second coming of Christ are jumping the gun. So, however, are critics who have already written the project off.
Of all the things that I found wrong with the Venice premiere, not one thing is beyond fixing. Fans of the wonderful, edgy Santa Barbara may remember that the first few months of that innovative soap were virtually unwatchable. Knots Landing, possibly the best nighttime serial drama, ever, limped its way through the first season or two before hitting its stride.
On the other hand, these are the days when few projects of this kind get very long to catch on and find their way. It's not unusual for television shows to be cancelled after just two or three episodes, if they don't deliver viewers. This hardly seems fair. Can Venice survive to see a second season? I'm pretty sure it can. Will it be any good? That remains to be seen.
Next Up: Gotham