While the 1984 film Splash has imbedded the image of Daryl Hannah as the epitome of a modern day mermaid, the mythological species apparently comes in an assortment of shapes, sizes and gender. “There are traditional mermaids—human top, fish bottom,” the normal looking William (Alex Aschinger) explains to new roommate Chris Anderson (Chris Yule) in the comedy web series Mermates. “And then reverse mermaids—fish top, human bottom—and I’m an innie-outie. I’m everted. On the outside I’m human, but on the inside, one hundred percent fish organs.” When Chris is dumped by his girlfriend after watching seasons of the AMC drama Breaking Bad without her, he is forced to move in with mermaid William, making Mermates an inside-out version of the fabled “fish out of water” narrative.
Modern mermaid stories such as the aforementioned Splash and the animated Disney film The Little Mermaid feature the fabled creature yearning for a life in the real world of humans, a foreign environment compared to their world beneath the sea. In Mermates, it is human Chris Anderson that is suddenly exposed to a different culture. While William appears normal on the outside, his lifestyle is far different than anything Chris has previously experienced. The mermaid of Mermates spends the majority of his time sitting fully clothed in the bath tub, sipping from a glass of water before allowing the contents of the container to dribble from his mouth. “That’s how I breathe,” he explains. As for eating, Chris is recruited into sprinkling flakes of store-bought fish food into his new roommate’s mouth as William anxiously awaits the enticing meal.
Mermates consists of six short episodes of approximately five minutes in length each. These small narrative nuggets are self-contained and effectively deal with various aspects of William’s life as a non-traditional mermaid through the eyes of a bewildered Chris Anderson. Despite the shortened length of the installments, the scripts are filled with an abundance of comic one-liners while the performances of the two main actors add to the innocence and charm of the web series. Mermates also features the Shirley Temple version of “At the Codfish Ball” as its theme song and the 1930s standard brings a Woody Allen-esque nostalgia to the proceedings. Allen has had a prolific film career, with award-winning classics like Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters as well as lighter comedic efforts such as Alice and Midnight in Paris amongst his impressive resume. If Mermates was an Allen creation, it would fall into the Woody-light category but the overall atmosphere of the web series provides the same wide-eyed-wonder and wistfulness that Woody Allen’s simpler efforts have always incorporated.
Much of the dialogue of Mermates centers on puns and word-play of popular sayings. “There are plenty of fish in the sea,” for instance, gets turned into “There are plenty of humans in the suburbs,” while a “porpoise” is mermaid slang for a common derogatory description geared towards females. The best dialogue, however, arises from the Odd Couple banter between William and Chris. When the former sets his new roommate up on a blind date with a goldfish, he refers to the miniature creature as a “great listener,” to which the latter deadpans, “She doesn’t have ears.” Despite being a collection of standalone episodes, meanwhile, the final installment brings closure to Mermates with a surprising twist in the closing moments, ultimately giving the web series a proper cohesiveness that effectively holds the narrative together.
Just as mermaids come in all shapes and sizes, the same holds true for web series. Some are dramas, some are comedies. Some contain evolving storylines told over multiple installments, while others feature standalone narratives recounted over the course of a single episode. Some web series are under five minutes in length, and some extend longer than ten. In short, the web series medium offers something for everyone in regards to entertainment. Mermates may not be as ambitious as some other comic productions available online, but its originality, simplicity and bite-size tales make it a worthy component of the still evolving medium nonetheless.
William may have his physiology inside out, but Mermates has its parts in all the right places from a comedy standpoint.
Anthony Letizia (June 15, 2012)