Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 02/11/21

Image result for Freelancers sitcom

When the only F word is Funny. Freelancers is a Jk! Studios show that follows the ridiculous misadventures of the staff a struggling video production company that’s actually named Video Production Company.

As a sitcom premise, things don’t get much more simple than that.

Here’s another simple premise:  If laughter is good medicine for individuals (and it is), the same prescription may just do wonders for our wounded culture. While there’s certainly a place for smart, politically-pointed comedy (from the right, left or wherever), a good case can be made that, in an era when virtually everything is politicized, genuine gut-busting comedy that targets only the funny bone and that we all can enjoy together (regardless of, say, opinions about Trump and the election) can be just what the zeitgeist doctor ordered.   People who provide such a haven of humanity can truly, in my view, be said to providing a vital service to society.

With Freelancers soon to kick off its second online season on VidAngel, I spoke that idea with executive producer Natalie Madsen. BTW, you can view the entire pilot below our conversation.

JWK: I just watched the pilot for Freelancers. It’s very funny. I actually laughed out loud.

Natalie Madsen: Oh, good!

JWK: So, tell me about the show.

NM: Freelancers is a show we created (at JK! Studios). We really wanted to make sitcoms. My team and I, we did sketch comedy for eight years at a network called BYUtv on a show called Studio C and, even before that, we were a sketch comedy ensemble in college. So, for years and years we were doing sketches. We always wanted to do something a little bit more episode focused and narrative focused and so Freelancers was just an idea we had forever. We eventually left our sketch show to start pursuing more projects like this. It’s really our first stab at a sitcom. Of course, it’s about best friends trying to make it as filmmakers – and we’re best friends trying to make it as filmmakers…It’s really silly but, at the heart of it, it’s about friends trying to make it and that’s exactly what we are. It’s really just a show about friends getting through life and (how) life can be silly and hard. You kind of see them trying to get through it which is fun.

JWK: What’s your role in the production?

NM: My role in it, specifically, for the first season I was a producer. I was finding locations and props and all that kind of stuff.  I also had a small part in the pilot as kind of a villain – an “evil donut lady” which (was) fun and random and different. Then, for Season 2, I’m actually executive producer. I was the person kind of running point with our crowdfunding effort. That was largely kind of my baby to get that (funding). Now, I’ll also be helping to make Season 2 happen.

JWK: Is Season 2 in production right now?

NM: We just started writing. We just closed crowdfunding. We didn’t know how many episodes we would be able to fund. We didn’t really know how to get going until we knew how much we could raise. So, we raised the full amount that we could – which is amazing – so now we are writing.  We are writing eight episodes right now which is so fun.

JWK: I know you guys first really got noticed on BYU-TV’s Studio C which I guess can be described as a more family-friendly version of SNL.   

NM: Yes.

JWK: After watching the pilot for Freelancers, I would sorta describe the show as a little bit SCTV, a little bit The Office, a little bit the Marx Brothers and a little bit Taxi.

NM: That’s very, very kind! Those are all amazing things to be compared to. We’re trying to make universal comedy. A main angle as a creative troupe is that we want to be inclusive with our comedy – which means there’s no swearing (and) it’s not inappropriate for kids to watch but adults will still watch it and laugh. The goal, at the end of the day, is for people to be able to gather the family around the couch, watch the stuff that we’re making and laugh together…It’s kind of like the dream. Our “Why?” is really so families can laugh together.

JWK: It’s very funny. I’m wondering if the Krispy Kreme lady you play in the pilot continues on into Season 2.

NM: I hope so but we’re right in the middle of writing so I can’t guarantee but I have seen a couple of ideas about her coming back.  So, we all hope it works out in the scripts that she gets to come back.

JWK: Have you heard from Krispy Kreme? Do they have a sense of humor about the character?

NM: It’s so funny because I’ve also been working with brands to get brand sponsorships (like) we’ve done in the past. Mallory (Everton), our showrunner called me like a year ago now while we were (preparing for the first season)…and she said “Hey, do you think we have a contact at Krispy Kreme?” It was so funny. I was like “Why?” and she was like “You’ll see.” That would be pretty amazing if they wanted to sponsor.

JWK: I guess if they have a sense of humor they might see an opportunity.

NM: You just never know.

JWK: Where do you look for comedy inspiration? Any classic sitcom, for example?

NM: Totally. I (binge on) Parks & Rec once a year. It’s like my favorite show ever. I love The Office. I grew up on Monty Python and The Carol Burnett Show and those just kind of classic funny staged sketches and sketch groups. Honestly, there’s such a melting pot of different comedies that I love that’s out there. That kind of classic stuff is what I grew up on, totally.

JWK: As we mentioned, you guys first really got noticed on Studio C which is on BYUtv which is owned and operated by Brigham Young University. It’s actually a pretty amazing channel that has produced some pretty impressive programming. Are you guys all Mormons?

NM: We all met at BYU and we all met through the Church. So, yeah, we’re all religious and that’s been kind of an interesting tie together, I guess I would say. Religious comedians are not very common. I know when we started making Studio C we never set out to make a “clean” comedy show. We just wanted to make a good sketch show. Just because of our temperaments and the way we’ve all been raised and our culture, there are just some things we avoid. It was never like “This is gonna make us different from everyone else.” It was just like “Let’s write the funniest stuff we can write” and then it all happened to be family-friendly because of our religious beliefs. I was just kind of like “Oh, yeah! I guess families can watch this together!” (but) we’re just trying to make the funniest show we can make.

JWK: I would say – again, having watched the pilot – that there was certainly nothing offensive but I wouldn’t even think to describe it as “faith-based” or as a “Mormon comedy.”  It was just sort of absurdly funny.

NM: Oh, that’s nice. We didn’t wanted it to be Mormon-specific comedy. We don’t want it to be like “You have to be Mormon to understand these jokes.  Like I said, our whole mission is to be inclusive. We want as many people as possible to be able to watch this together with people they love.

JWK: Where can people currently find the show?

NM: There’s a couple of places you can find Season 1. It’s on our JK! Studios YouTube channel. It’s also on VidAngel. It’s part of their streaming of original content that they have.  Season 2, right now the tentative plan is to releasing Season 2 this fall. That will be available for free somewhere on the internet. We’re not exactly sure where it will live. It might have its own app. It might be on YouTube but, either way, it’ll be online and free for people to watch (and) it will be on VidAngel, for sure.

JWK: How long do you foresee doing the show?

NM: We hope to do several more seasons with VidAngel (through) crowdfunding. It was so successful for this season. We’re, obviously, focused on making this season the best it can be and making it profitable for our investors but, looking forward, the hope is to make at least three more seasons.

JWK: And the future of JK! Studios?

NM: With JK! Studios, we’re always developing new shows and new ideas. We’ve got a couple of movie scripts in the works. And then we have some web series we want to make.  We have nothing but ideas.

JWK: Do you even have a desire to be on a traditional TV network or a streamer?

NM: Sure! We would love to be on as many streaming services as possible. For the year 2020, I pitched both JK! projects and Freelancers to almost every streaming service you’ve heard of. Most people were not that interested in family-friendly stuff. It just wasn’t really of value to them…which is one reason crowdfunding has been so reassuring. Crowdfunding is a way for people to say “I literally value this enough that I will pay for it before it’s even made.”

JWK: You know, even “family-friendly” wouldn’t be the first phrase I would think of to describe your show. I mean it is but I just think it appeals to people who like laugh-out-loud comedy. 

NM: I agree. I think you’re right. I think there’s a certain connotation with “family-friendly” where people think “Oh, so it’s a Disney Channel show for kids.” It’s just (that) you can watch it with your family because there’s nothing inappropriate in it. We try to make it as clever and as fun as possible.

JWK: What I think really sets the show apart, especially in these times, is that it’s not political. It’s also inclusive in the sense that you can be on either side of the political spectrum and still find it funny. Personally, I think that’s the kind of comedy our country needs more of right now.

NM: We try to be inclusive. We don’t want to alienate anyone. We’re not religiously specific. We’re not politically specific. We just want it to be funny. I really do truly believe that comedy is the great unifier. It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t think The Office is funny but it’s easy to find people that politically hate each other – but both of those people probably love Michael Scott.

***

Jennifer Garner said “Yes” to Yes Day. So, the PG-rated family comedy (based on the bestselling book by the late Amy Krouse Rosenthal) is set to drop via Netflix on Friday, March 12. Check out the synopsis and trailer below.
Synopsis: Always feeling like they have to say NO to their kids and co-workers, Allison and Carlos decide to give their three kids a YES DAY — where for 24 hours the kids make the rules. Little did they know that they’d be going on a whirlwind adventure around Los Angeles, that would bring the family closer to each other than ever before.

Cast: Jennifer Garner, Édgar Ramírez, Jenna Ortega, Julian Lerner, Everly Carganilla, H.E.R., Nat Faxon, Molly Sims, Fortune Feimster, Arturo Castro/Directed by Miguel Arteta/Screenplay by Justin Malen/Rated PG

IMHO: It’s great that Netflix is continuing its expansion of its family-friendly film and TV show portfolio but, as Natalie Madsen notes above, there does seem to be bit of a cultural blind spot regarding the value fare that doesn’t necessarily shout out FAMILY-FRIENDLY but is nonetheless suitable for the whole family. Television, particularly, was once full of content of all genres that could be enjoyed across generational (as well as political, religious and cultural) lines. Television, including streaming, can be a very healing and unifying force if it is intentionally used not to manipulate us all into thinking alike but to encourage us to, perhaps, laugh together as we look at the common humanity beyond our differing perspectives.

On that note, I’d encourage the talent seekers at Netflix to check out Freelancers.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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