Meet the Hanslick Girls: Gwen, Eleanor and Dania. Created by writer Zach Barr, they are a trio of friends who are always out experiencing the best of entertainment. Be it plays, films, concerts, exhibits, or games, they’ve learned that the arts are best when experienced together. They may not have the same opinions, but their conversations tend to make for an entertaining read. This week, the Girls discuss a recent narrative chestnut: a miniseries of minute-long episodes, distributed via Instagram, and produced almost entirely by women. Let’s hear what they had to say…
The new year was now a week old, and the novelty of throwing the past year over her shoulder had finally faded. Avoiding the end of her lunch break, Eleanor killed time in the break room on her phone. She swiped through Instagram expectantly – this was the best time of year, when everyone posted their photos from over the break. Family after family of smiling people in front of fake fireplaces lit up the screen.
One of the posts stood out, catching Eleanor’s attention enough to stop scrolling for a moment. It was a drawing of three women – from left to right, a blonde in an orange top, a woman glancing up from a mane of thick black hair, and a woman with her hair tucked and pulled back over her head. All three glanced up to the right, with expressions ranging from distrust to distaste. The teal background was empty, save for the word “menace,” in script, sitting in the center of the image. At the top was scrawled the artist’s name, “Partes,” and the handle @MENACEseries.
The image was simple. The most prominent part of anyone’s face was their bright lipstick. And yet, something caught the mind as well as the eye.
She glanced at the post. Originally from November, it had been shared by Gwen again, bringing it to her feed.
“Gwen!” she called out. “What’s the Menace Series?”
No response came. She typed the address into search, and was taken to the account page. MENACE, it turned out, was a television show – a “microseries,” the page touted. Eleanor glanced at the thirteen videos at the top of the feed, then past that to the many pastel-colored advertisements for the show. A general air of female empowerment came through in most of them – quotes from notable feminist figures were common.
Eleanor clicked on the first video. She watched the blonde woman, meditating while eating what looked to be cat food, as an announcer discussed a massacre of nuns in Lincoln Park.
“Who are these guys? It’s like the KKK meets ISIS. GuySIS, for real!”
She chuckled at the wordplay. She watched the remainder of the videos, all under a minute long, occasionally liking them as she went. Video number six, which featured a blunt, yet reserved, conversation about domestic abuse, got a like, while the final few videos she watched passively. The show seemed fun, from the snapshots they had posted – a feminist apocalypse narrative more about safety than survival. Eleanor clicked away, making a mental note to bring up the show to Gwen later that day.
– – – – –
“That’s all of it?”
“It’s a microseries,” Gwen said, putting her drink down. “Did you read the page description?”
“Yeah,” Eleanor said. “They didn’t mention anything about that being all there was. I assumed there was a T.V. series attached to it – it called itself a T.V. series!”
“I mean, what’s a T.V. series today?” Dania asked. “Nothing on Netflix is actually on T.V. It’s more, you know, that it has episodes.”
“I suppose…” Eleanor turned away, looking at the T.V. behind the bar. It was showing one of the shows that still played on traditional television: lots of men in suits looking very serious at one another.
Gwen leaned back in the booth, glancing towards Eleanor. “You did watch all of it, right?”
“Apparently,” Eleanor answered. “I mean, if you want to call it that, I binge-watched the entire series by accident. That’s a first.”
“It’s probably easier when the entire series is the length of one episode of a regular show,” Dania suggested.
“Shorter, even,” Gwen said. “Thirteen episodes, at under a minute each – the whole series is barely longer than half a traditional T.V. episode. Still, I wouldn’t want much more, it’s the right length as is.”
“Well, they wrote it that way, right?” Eleanor leaned onto the table. “Isn’t short form content supposed to be, you know, the thing for people these days? The way you make it online?”
“It’s much easier than breaking into the industry,” Gwen agreed. “That’s where ‘MENace’ came from: three women, tired of telling stories about men, who got a group together to tell their own story.”
“Good for them, I guess,” Eleanor said.
Gwen stole a fry from the basket in the center – and caught a glimpse of Eleanor’s eye.
“Something up, Eleanor?” she asked, looking to Dania for support.
“It’s nothing,” Eleanor said, unconvincingly.
“Are you sad that ‘MENace’ isn’t a full series?” Dania suggested, with a smile.
“No, I mean…” Eleanor began.
Dania’s face fell. “Wait, are you actually, or…”
“No, I’m not depressed about it or anything,” Eleanor said. “It’s just…weird to have accidentally watched a webseries without realizing it.”
“Don’t be sad,” Gwen chided, eating the fry. “It’s a new medium. New avenues for storytelling are opening up.”
“Hm.” Eleanor stared at the fry basket, unconvinced.
“What did you think of it, b.t.w.?” Dania asked Gwen.
“I thought it was excellent,” Gwen said. “It’s not narrative driven, and once you understand that, it’s a blunt snapshot of life for these women. For all women, you know.”
“I dunno..” Eleanor said. “I mean, I get it, but ––”
Their food arrived at that moment. As they tucked in, the conversation shifted away from the series. But the questions still plagued Eleanor. The show’s conflict had felt empty, when divided across the episodes. The need for a new conflict in each minute made the episodes feel more…well, episodic, in a way that felt like the show was repeating itself. Hell, she realized. The final image in the series is a repeat of an image from episode five.
It felt more like a pilot – which is why I figured more show followed. It established the setting so more things could happen. But without more things, the show was merely an idea. A nice idea, one she wanted more of – but one she left not feeling full.
“I’m full,” Dania said, pushing her plate away. “Anyone want these fries?”
“No thank you,” Gwen said.
“I have a question.” Eleanor looked to her friends.
“Going back to MENace,” she continued. “Best episode. Which one?”
“This really is on your mind, isn’t it?” Dania asked.
Eleanor held her arms out. “I gotta engage with it now, since I didn’t when it was playing!”
“Fine, fine,” Gwen calmed. “Best episode…”
As they considered this, Eleanor tried in vain to answer her own question. The episodes blurred together – same setting, same characters. The white girl leaving and then returning was two separate episodes…but what else happened there? The first episode with all three women was the fourth…but what happened besides them meeting?
“Episode – sorry, do you have one?” Gwen asked.
“No, go for it.”
“Episode five,” Gwen said. “Where the girls discover Jane’s relationship and discuss defending themselves.”
“Hm,” Eleanor murmured, pretending to remember distinctly.
“The episode works perfectly fine on its own, as a conversation that reveals the bitter truths about that situation. But when you add the ‘radical men committing femicide’ backstory of the entire series, it changes the stakes of the conversation. Not to mention the solid acting and good camera work, considering no one moves during that episode.”
“Well, they don’t move that much during the rest of it,” Eleanor said. “It’s a lot of talking heads.”
Gwen frowned. “Is it?” She glanced at the ceiling. “They move around during episodes. The next one is when all of Daisy’s money gets taken away online. That one has a lot of choreography. In general, the cinematography is stellar.”
“It’s a little claustrophobic,” Eleanor suggested. “I mean, I know they’re caught in an apartment, but you’d think they could back the camera up a little further.”
“It feels intentional.”
Dania was staring down at the table, running the series through her head again. “I…hm…”
“Stuck between a couple?” Gwen asked.
“Kinda,” Dania said. “It’s funny – when I think about it again, it all bleeds together into one mega-episode. I can’t really nail down one of them.”
“I get that!” Eleanor said, her shoulders dropping. “Like, there are moments that stand out to me – Ana getting rejected by her date, or the marshmallow party. Or the one with Ana standing in front of the mirror stealing my routine.”
“Yeah, I felt personally attacked,” Dania groaned.
“Ana is probably the strongest actor,” Gwen commented. “Although she does get the best material to work with, considering.”
Eleanor nodded. “But yeah, when you think about the show, all the episodes, it’s more about the moments than any overall conflict.”
“It’s like, the conflict is between the three women and…” Dania said, her hands indicating some undefined object beyond her reach. “…the entirety of men, or something.”
Gwen raised an eyebrow. “Then, could you say that the show is about the constant stress women feel, living in a world with men on the attack?”
“Maybe,” Dania said. “Except they aren’t, you know, forming gangs to go kill us.”
“Not yet,” Eleanor said, staring again at the T.V.
“Perhaps not in gangs,” Gwen rephrased. “But that apocalyptic fear, the fear to go outside, the fear that your date might kill you…”
“Yeah, but is that apocalyptic?” Dania said. “It’s more like…” She struggled to find the right word.
“Looming,” Eleanor said. The characters on the T.V. were talking with a woman sitting on the witness stand.
“Portentous, I’d say,” Gwen said.
“I just think ‘apocalyptic’ implies something out of the ordinary. Like, a world crumbling down. We’re not quite there yet, right?”
Eleanor didn’t respond. She was watching the lawyer walk away from his crying defendant on the T.V.
Image Credit: Chicago Reader