There will be a lot of new television shows competing for your attention over the next couple of weeks, but there’s only one that will only take a couple minutes of your time each week and is pushing forward the pop culture conversation about marriage equality, sexual orientation in sports, and the relationships between gay men and straight women. That’s Husbands, a new web series from Jane Espenson, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Battlestar Galactica and director Jeff Greenstein, a veteran of Friends, Will & Grace, Parenthood , and Desperate Housewives . I spoke with them and the rest of the show’s cast and crew for a two-part series about the state of web television, and the state of gay relationships in popular culture:
“When we did Will & Grace, we were attempting to extend the recent gains Ellen had made when it revealed to America that the spunky gal they were already in love with happened to be gay,” says Husbands director Jeff Greenstein, who won an Emmy in 2000 for his work on Will & Grace, and is a writer and executive producer on Desperate Housewives and State of Georgia, which premiered this summer. “Over the course of eight seasons, we were able to gently move both these men into mature relationships. And by that I don’t just mean two guys lounging on the sofa watching Funny Girl, but falling in love, planning a life, kissing on the lips and sleeping together. Which for the time was kind of a big deal. It’s been six years since Will & Grace, and gay guys on network TV are still lounging on the sofa watching Funny Girl.”
Rather than emulating dramas like The Kids Are All Right or comedies like Modern Family as a way to explore the realities of marriage, the creators of Husbands looked to stories about young married couples no matter their gender. Jane Espenson, the show’s co-creator and a veteran of shows ranging from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Battlestar Galactica, took television shows Mad About You and Dharma & Greg as inspiration, while Greenstein looked to Barefoot in the Park. While most looks at gay couples tend to treat them as if they’re established, Cheeks, the show’s co-creator, says he and Espenson stumbled on the idea of looking at the beginning of a marriage. “It seemed like such a classic, yet timely, premise,” he says, as couples line up to marry in New York.
“Yes, the issue is serious, but every individual marriage is funny,” says Espenson. “And just making that point is making a point about marriage equality—look how this is just a normal marriage in every way, including all of its own personal craziness.”
The show premieres at 9:30 EST/6:30 PST tonight on its website. I’ve read through the first season’s worth of scripts, and it’s a fresh, funny show, a genuine bridge to something new and different. And more to the point, Husbands is effectively a pitch to a network. This first season is really a first-episode pilot. If an audience comes together around the web series, a network won’t have to speculate about whether there’s an viewership for an irreverent equal marriage comedy — they’ll know for sure that audience exists. Tuning in is mostly an abstract way to show support for something fresh and different unless you’re a Nielsen viewer. This is a time when we can actually cast countable votes with our mouses.