is it me or has television given up on the sitcom? Aside from the odd gemstone the only thing on these days is reality. All well and good if your main goal is to watch dance contests, not so hot if your passion is for something with a story, let alone a story that features someone other than a walking hetero lollipop.
“Is there no hope for us who want to see a little lesbo comedy?” we damsels in distress cry out.
Well, yes. Yes there is.
Enter web TV phenomenon BJ Fletcher: Private Eye, now in its second season, created, written and directed by Torontonian Regan Latimer, an independent filmmaker, sound designer and behind-the-camera wunderkind whose previous work includes the short film Harmony Matches for Life. BJ Fletcher was originally conceived as Latimer’s submission to a 2008 short film contest hosted by Afterellen.com.
“Lindy [Zucker] and I had always wanted to work together,” Latimer says. From there she built up an idea for a series. Casting was crucial. “It was clear there needed to be strong comedic chemistry between Lindy and whoever we got to play her best friend, George. Lindy suggested her old college friend, Newfoundland actress Dana Puddicombe, and after the first reading we all knew she’d be a great fit.”
The pilot won the After Ellen contest; BJ Fletcher the series was born.
The premise is simple: BJ Fletcher is the story of a local private eye with a little swagger and a lot of clumsy played by Zucker. She is sharp as a piece of toast. Fletcher is ably assisted by Georgia Drew, played by Puddicombe, a sweetheart and a witty smarty who is Fletcher’s salvation and best friend. The show’s humour is fabulously blooper-esque, a pastiche of silly slapstick comedy, clever repartee and straight-up irony, featuring the talents of two characters who are, like their creators, bursting with uniqueness.
Zucker is a Toronto actress and writer whose work will be familiar to Buddies in Bad Times Theatre enthusiasts, appearing in Rhubarb Festival shows and various cabarets, often in unflattering makeup. When asked to describe her character Zucker’s response provides a little insight into what you might expect from the show. Fletcher, says Zucker, is a “hooker with a heart of gold… and by hooker I mean clown and by heart of gold I mean mild brain damage.” With her trademark 1970s leather jacket and Sputnik-sized “portable” tape recorder into which she records narration for an upcoming novel, Fletcher is retro-iconic — even if Zucker dismisses her as a possible sex symbol. “She thinks she is a sexy action hero,” says Zucker. “I think that’s kind of self-explanatory.”
Puddicombe, also a theatre actor and writer, has appeared in a bucketful of productions and currently acts as co-artistic director of the East of Reason theatre company. She describes her sidekick character Georgia in slightly more sentimental terms. “[Georgia is] warm, gentle, smart, wise and funny,” says Puddicombe. “Really, for me, it’s all about Laverne and Shirley. For season three I should sew a big G on my left breast.” The G should go well with Drew’s trademark mini-kilt, the yin to Fletcher’s ’70s yang. The key to bringing Georgia to life, says Puddicombe, is “extra hold hairspray and a smile.”
Aside from Laverne and Shirley, who didn’t solve crimes but could have if they didn’t have to work the factory, both cast and director were heavily influenced by a multitude of bygone TV sleuths. The show, Latimer notes, is an homage to retro and current shows, full of tidbits for fans to dig out. “Apart from our characters’ names,” says Latimer, “Lindy’s sunglasses’ action is inspired by David Caruso from CSI: Miami. Fletcher’s cell ringtone is the theme from Murder, She Wrote.”
The series is currently shot on little to no budget. Although the production company threw a successful fundraiser last summer (where the prize included a walk-on role) finances are still tight. “A fantastic team of people make [the show] happen,” says Puddicombe. “It really reminds you what can be created with dedication and perseverance… and many Hero Burgers and too little sleep.”
“Everyone working on this series donates their talent and time,” adds Latimer, “which means working around everyone’s paying jobs, auditions and location availabilities. Ideally we would like to develop the series into a full-scale production on the strength of what we’ve been able to create thus far.”
To Latimer and the cast’s credit the lack of finances is not felt in the final product. If anything one of the show’s strengths is in how it plays up its quirky low-budget effects and found props, like the “all silicone transistor TC-207,” a “state-of-the-art” audio monitoring system that looks not unlike a 1950s reel-to-reel machine (that has to be manually manipulated). The prop is actually a Latimer family heirloom that found its way on the set from her father’s closet.
Both Zucker and Puddicombe hope that any future big budget high-tech version of BJ will feature them making a slow-mo walk away from a giant explosion.
For her part Zucker tries to keep expenses to a minimum. “Of course I do my own stunts,” she boasts. “Thankfully I haven’t been asked to do anything that will result in any more than multiple bruises because unless you count watching cartoons as training then I’ve had none.”
It may be that the internet is a haven for shows like BJ Fletcher. Although the web has become a place where you can watch almost any cable television program, Latimer notes it’s also a place where fans looking for “more than network” can find new shows. “Being online,” she says, “means that we can try new things because we have no networks to please.” Being online also means there are few limits on who can access the series. “It gives us a much larger audience base. People from all over the world can watch BJ Fletcher online.”
As Latimer points out there are few TV shows currently on air right now that feature stories about strong women, produced and written by strong women, even fewer with queer women. BJ Fletcher distinguishes itself from The L-Word, the only lesbo show currently on air, by making the characters’ queer sexualities just one element of individual scenes rather than the theme of the entire show.
“We have never made it an issue that our characters are lesbians,” says Latimer. “It’s one aspect of who they are. Whereas, on shows like The L-Word or Queer as Folk, broadly speaking, that’s the whole point of who they are. If shows believe they need to separate and segregate themselves from the pack based on the fact that they feature gay or lesbian characters, how do we then ever expect to be accepted into the mainstream? Fletcher has a lot of fans that are both gay and straight. At the end of the day, regardless of sexuality, good stories and good characters are always going to pull audiences.”
BJ Fletcher has completed its first season, currently available on Bjfletcherprivateeye.com. Straight and queer Fletcher fans, present and future, can go to the website to check out cast bios, pics, blooper reels and the trailer for season two, currently in production. The first episode of season two went up on Dec 2 with new episodes following every Tuesday.
Lock and load.