Adam Goldman’s follow-up to his (hit?—it’s certainly got a following in NYC) webseries The Outs is the equally bleak series Whatever this is. Instead of following the intense break-up of a couple, this series tackles a more expansive look at what living in NYC is like, especially for those penniless millennials. Based on the first episode (which you can watch here), Whatever this is seems to be an entertaining series guaranteed to capture the struggle of making it in NYC—without all that privilege that the cast of Girls flaunts.
Speaking of Girls, the female lead Lisa (played by Madeline Wise) comes off as a hard-up Marnie, struggling in a state of poverty she’s uncomfortable with but desperate to appear as a kind person. Her equally hard-up boyfriend Sam (Hunter Canning) works as a PA with fellow friend and roommate Ari (Dylan Marron) to help pay the rent—they have a jar of cash to calculate how close they are to the monthly payment. Whatever this is follows this trio as they navigate the ofttimes cutthroat world of NYC.
With a heterosexual couple at the center, Ari comes off as the cliché GBF. His role seems to exist solely as an enticement to fans of The Outs. That is, until his confessional monologue to a wasted “Real Housewife” emphasizes that he’ll be an equally well-developed character. He also reveals an interesting fact about one of his roommates, adding some emotional mystery to the other characters.
Goldman’s tone here is more comedic than The Outs, but it doesn’t lose any of its bleak outlook on life. However, his “playwright style of writing” proves much more awkward in this series. A scene between the three roommates and friends feels like a terse recital of Neil LaBute dialogue instead of a natural interaction between friends. Goldman’s intensity, which worked for The Outs, doesn’t translate to this “lighter” drama.
Fans of The Outs will certainly revel in the differences between The Outs and Whatever this is. Sasha Winters plays a fellow PA who delivers one or two snarky comments (one can only hope that she’ll play a larger a role in the upcoming episodes). Beloved Scruffy (Tommy Heleringer) also plays a fellow PA—this time he’s clean-shaven—in a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it cameo (Spoiler Alert: previews of the rest of the series—and his inclusion in the publicity photos—imply that he’ll reappear in a greater capacity). And, in amusing contrast, Canning sports some of the scruff that Heleringer now lacks, adding to his heterosexual look that’s perfected by his white ankle socks and cargo shorts. Playing against their previous types seems almost too obvious an acting choice, but the actors are very capable in these roles.
Having only seen the first episode, this series feels unsure of what it wants to be; but paired with the preview of the rest of the series, you can rest assured that intriguing drama will follow (and another cameo by Alan Cumming). Yet that unsurety of tone drives home Goldman’s message of how disappointment and desperation fuels this generation’s struggle in unfulfilling jobs as they strive for success.
[As of this posting, the kickstarter for this series is still accepting pledges. And if you pledge $30 or more you can get a download of The Outs!]