Written by Kate Berlant, John Early, & Andrew DeYoung
Directed by Andrew DeYoung
A mall employee finds out a pop song she wrote has been stolen. A mother pushes her near mute son to audition for commercials. Two students in an acting class have meaningless interactions. A couple of actors getting makeup applied talk endlessly about getting their shit together and making YouTube content. Hollywood agents move like predators through every aspect of their lives. This is the world of Kate Berlant and John Early’s 555, a digital anthology series offered by Vimeo (https://vimeo.com/ondemand/fivefivefive).
I am a great fan of Berlant and Early’s work, starting with discovering Early in his scene-stealing performance as part of Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. When Netflix released their skit comedy anthology The Characters, I immediately went to his episode, which is still the best of the bunch. It was through The Characters I was also introduced to Berlant and fell in love with her awkward style of comedy. The two have produced dozens of videos on YouTube, and they all exemplify the same love of cringey, shallow characters. There is a deep love for these characters despite the sometimes vicious skewering the duo can give out. But that is just a sign of good acting and writing, even the most despicable character has to be loved in some way by the actor portraying them, or they become a one-dimensional caricature.
555 takes the already established character types and adds vibrant style through the direction of Andrew DeYoung. DeYoung is a veteran of the Funny or Die style of comedy video that’s become popular in the last decade. His work is very subversive but in the subtlest of ways. 555 includes moments reminiscent of David Lynch, Todd Haynes, and others and works beautifully alongside Berlant and Early’s comedy. Some episodes are more aesthetically heightened (Pop, Mom) while others feature a more pared down look (Acting, Aliens). Each short honestly feels like a long-form film cut down, and I wanted them to go on longer so I could stay in this interesting place the trio have created. They are smart enough to end their shorts without clear resolutions, so they linger in the mind for a long time after. Vimeo bills the series as “Comedy” and “Drama” and while it is heavily the former, it weaves in the latter masterfully. Their previous collaboration, “Santa Monica” feels the most like 555 if you’re looking for an example.
The characters of Berlant and Early’s world are riddled with jealousy and ambition. In the first episode of 555, “Pop” we don’t know the full extent until the shocking end, and from there, nothing is held back. The young ingenues of “Acting” feel like people the duo have studied carefully, and you will feel you have meant before. Early’s pretentiously humble actor shares in a trust circle of actors that he is “honored” to be with them. On stage when being asked to think of emotional walls, he might have up he seems lost to come up with any, while to the audience they are transparently obvious. Berlant’s plays an agent perfectly in the concluding short “Agents” who is so self-absorbed she barely acknowledges a colleagues suddenly blindness. The flip of this is the hint of truth behind the blindness that pushes Early’s fellow agent character into even deeper depths of shallow depravity.
555 is the type of cringing awkward comedy that some audiences can’t handle. I personally love the examinations of the awkward going on in this series. Berlant and Early are a perfect comedy duo, soulmates who play off of each other beautifully. Every time I come to the end of their digital shorts or their individual episodes of The Characters I have wanted more. 555 is a sign that there is a significant work ahead of them and I am elated to see what they give to us next.