BY FRANCESCA LEWIS
If you haven’t been watching Laura Zak and Caitlin Bergh’s awesome web series #Hashtag over on tello films, you definitely should. With its irreverent tone, flawed characters and dialogue that could be plucked right from real life, the show has a little of Lena Dunham’s “Girls” about it. Written by and starring creators Zak and Bergh, it follows Chicago besties Liv (Zak) and Skylar (Bergh) as they try to navigate their mid-twenties with an over-reliance on technology and tragically funny lack of self-awareness.
While season one focused more on the ways that technology plays into (and invades, disrupts and sabotages) dating and friendships, the second season is all about the results and consequences of the choices made in the first. There is a commitment vs freedom theme throughout and both central characters, having a social media-fed compulsion to experience everything, are struggling with the pressure to make definite decisions in a world of infinite choice. In case the content of the episodes didn’t make the theme of freedom clear enough, each episode begins with the hashtag #livefree.
Cynical bookworm Liv spent the show’s first season enjoying no-strings OKCupid hook-ups and innocent instagram flirtation/stalking. We now find Liv in an adorable semi-serious relationship with the stunningly beautiful Tash. It’s all Sunday morning sex and lovestruck bedhead selfies, yet despite her obvious attraction to and compatibility with Tash, Liv is still restless. Every time it feels like the two are really connecting, truly forging something real – as in the scene when Tash tries to give Liv a key to her apartment – Liv clams up and resists not only Tash’s feelings, but her own. Instead she is much more interested in the mysterious, unattainable Marlee’s Mom, an instagram follower she’s never met. As the season unfolds we see Liv make a mistake only too common these days – neglecting what we already have in pursuit of something shiny and new. All signs point to Liv and Tash being a match made in heaven but in an age where thousands of alternatives are a button’s touch away, it’s hard to settle, even for perfection.
Awkward stand-up comic Skylar, who spent the first season in a long-term “boring” relationship with Miriam, begins the season heartbroken. She fell for the mirage-like wiles of fellow comedian Rose and is now effectively homeless after being thrown out by Miriam. Though she wasn’t really happy in that relationship, Skylar dislikes being alone even more and attempts to replace steady, reliable Miriam with cruel, capricious Rose. Unsurprisingly, despite a false-hope inducing steamy experience on a staircase, Skylar soon learns that Rose is not going to be the one to repair her broken heart. While couchsurfing in random homes, she becomes a viral sensation on Vine, but rather than focusing on this new exciting turn in her career, spends half the season mooning after Rose and the other half dating the nineteen year old daughter of her BFF’s new squeeze, Marlee’s Mom. Skylar’s impulsive and selfish approach to relationships is a consequence of her own low-self esteem and poor social skills, two traits not at all helped by an overuse of social media.
My one small criticism is that #Hashtag isn’t a very diverse show. There were no people of color in the first season and in the second there is only Marlee’s Mom’s fairly unlikable boyfriend, a small and forgettable part. One character, Miriam, is somewhat butch/boi but the others, while they all have their individual styles, are fairly femme and conventionally attractive (though their body types do vary from what we might see from Hollywood). I’m a firm believer that nothing can be all things to all people. Telling an intimate story like this, in this running time (8-16 minutes, with the average being about 12 minutes) and on this budget, you’re not necessarily going to be able to include every different type of person. Still, the criticism that lesbian shows are too often populated by slim, white, able-bodied femmes is not exactly blown out of the water by #Hashtag.
One of the most interesting things about season two of #Hashtag is the subplot focusing on Emily. In season one Emily and Ben were the token straight couple, seeming a little ordinary and straight-laced compared to our central hipster-like characters. Emily comes back in season two a little looser, a little more likeable, and with a new mission. She and Ben have decided to open their relationship because Emily wants to date women. I assumed, when this was brought up in the first episode, that Emily was being set up to fail and prove how unfeasible such a choice is – the usual trajectory for poly stories on TV. But #Hashtag played this amazingly well – by the end of the season things have gone smoothly for Emily with a girl she met at Marlee’s Mom’s party and Ben is completely fine about it, even being very open and humble about his pangs of jealousy. Interestingly, we rarely see Emily and Ben on their phones and Emily met the girl IRL – no OKCupid required.
A fresh, fun yet thought-provoking show with engaging stories and a pair of relatable, magnetic leads, if #Hashtag continues to grow as much as it has so far, it may just earn its place in lesbian web series history.
Francesca Lewis is a queer feminist writer from Yorkshire, UK. She writes for Curve Magazine and The Human Experience as well as writing short fiction and working on a novel. Her ardent love of American pop culture is matched only by her passion for analyzing it completely to death.