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Saving Rent Review

on Mon, 04/05/2010 - 00:00

Taking a diverse assortment of characters that would not normally interact with each other and placing them together in an offbeat environment is a time-honored comic tradition. Slews of serial narratives, from Gilligan’s Island to The Office on television to web series like The Guild online, have utilized such a plot device both effectively and successfully. Saving Rent follows in similar footsteps with a twelve-episode season that is both funny and relevant while again proving that an independently-produced web series can be just as enjoyable as any mainstream sitcom on television.

Advertising manager Mike (Vincent Giovanni) and girlfriend Kelley (Alice Cutler) relocate from Boston to Los Angeles only to find life on the West Coast different than expected when Mike loses his job due to a weakened economy. With his life-savings spent on a luxurious home and his pride preventing him from telling Kelley about his unemployment status, Mike hatches a plan to rent out the extra rooms in their large abode to a small handful of strangers. After interviewing the usual assortment of suspects—or in this case, unusual assortment—the two decide upon Paul (Jacob Lane), a Canadian trying to make it as an actor in L.A.; Suzie (Mallory McGill), a waitress who insists she is 21 despite looking much younger; Tina (Ashley Palmer), a wannabe porn-star; and Chucho (Alex Ruiz), a seemingly illegal Mexican immigrant who doesn’t speak English.

Having thus set up the situation in the first episode, co-creators Gary Teperman and Ernie Lee then develop the comedy by exploring this oddball assortment of roommates and the lengths they go to in order to achieve personal success. With a premise already built on one lie—the fact that Mike lost his job but still pretends to go to work every day—Saving Rent expands upon it by giving each member of the ensemble cast secrets and lies of their own.

While Paul is not above dropping the name William Shatner as a reference during his initial rental interview with Mike and Kelley, for instance, he is in actuality the epitome of a struggling actor in Los Angeles and is forced to take such meandering jobs as portraying a pirate on Hollywood Boulevard and a fake patient for medical students to diagnose. Suzie, meanwhile, is not a 21-year-old world traveler but a teenage runaway, and while Tina does have the ambition to be an adult film start, she has yet to break into the industry. It also turns out that Chucho is neither Mexican nor unable to speak English, and even Kelley gets into the act by secretly selling weed and marijuana-laced brownies on the side.

Each episode of the web series begins with a short, 30 second opening sequence featuring a theme-song reminiscent of any number of television sitcoms produced by Norman Lear in the 1970s and 80s. While Saving Rent may not be a classic along the likes of All in the Family, Maude and The Jeffersons, it is just as much an exploration of its times as those legendary Lear creations of the past. In the 1970s, it was racial and gender inequality that were the country’s primary struggles—for the years 2008-2010, it’s the economy and the struggles of every day Americans who have faced lay-offs and difficulties making ends meet. While Mike may be more middle-to-upper class economically as opposed to working class, the situation of suddenly finding himself unemployed and potentially losing his home because of an inability to pay his mortgage is just as much a sign of the times as anything else.

Of course, the growing web series medium itself is another staple of the times in which we live, something not lost on the cast and crew of Saving Rent. “We always intended to shoot it as a web series,” Alice Cutler, who not only portrays wife Kelley but served as an executive producer and writer on the show, told Somojo Magazine in October 2009. “More and more people are watching TV on the Internet, higher profile actors are appearing on web series, and it’s so easy to promote online content. And with sites like Facebook and Twitter, you can get the word out to thousands instantly without spending a dime.”

With its classic premise and relevant subject matter, Saving Rent is a situation comedy for our uncertain economic times that fits in nicely with other web series of its genre. It is also a show that anyone can identify with—who hasn’t, after all, lied to both others and themselves about the various crossroads that life sometimes leads. Saving Rent proves that we are not alone with the struggles we face, and helps us to both gain perspective and laugh along the way as well. What could be more right for the times than that?

Anthony Letizia (April 5, 2010)

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