REVIEW: F to 7th Season 1 had moments of brilliance

f to 7th

Ingrid Jungermann with guest star Amy Sedaris in F to 7th episode 4.

F to 7th: A homoneurotic web series started its first season (8 episodes) a month ago, after securing funds through a Kickstarter campaign. The series features the writing and acting of Ingrid Jungermann a thesis student at NYU: Tisch School of the Arts in the Graduate Film Program (according to her webpage bio).

F to 7th is a spin-off of Jungermann’s highly successful web series The Slope, created with her former girlfriend Desiree Akhavan. In its first season The Slope featured some of the freshest and most hilarious lesbian comedy I have seen on the web.

The series concerned two “superficial, homophobic lesbians” living in Park Slope. The characters, named after the shows creators, were personas used to point up the absurdities of life in a lesbian ghetto. In The Slope the pair wrestle with such things as dildo and harness purchases and the politics of the Food Co-op. My favorite episode was their parody “It Gets Better” video. Classic line: “There is a way to be out and happy when you are in high school, and it is if you are a hot girl.”


On The Slope Desiree brought a bubbly, self-effacing charm, but it was Ingrid’s deadpan expressions and one liners that gave dynamic momentum.

It seems that sometime during their Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for season 2, Ingrid and Desiree broke up (full disclosure, I contributed to the Kickstarter campaign and thereby got myself a Slope T-Shirt which I wear proudly when running). By necessity they were stuck dealing with the breakup as a central plot point for season 2. Ingrid was missing from most of the second season episodes until she turned up at the end, sitting on a park bench, discussing the breakup with Desiree. Personally, the park bench talk was painfully familiar territory, but watching a break-up reenactment is excruciating for anybody.

With the premier of F to 7th I was hoping Ingrid would have had a chance to come up for air and use the energy of being newly single to generate more humorous and imaginative satire.

Prior to the show’s release I found a HuffPo article she wrote discussing her intent for the new series, i.e. to explore her decent in the the “ever elusive lesbian middle-age” while grappling with questions of her own gender identity: intersex? trans? gender-queer?

First, the fact that she talks about her decent into lesbian middle-age when we are the same age, almost caused me an aneurysm, but I am a sucker for confessionals, so on I went. By the end of the article I couldn’t decide if I wanted to send her an Edible Arrangement or move to Brooklyn and try to run into her at Gorilla Coffee so we could be best friends.

All the issues that she raises in her HuffPo missive turn up in the first season of F to 7th. In episode 2, entitled “Tweener” we find her at a softball game with her friend (played with great humor and believable vulnerability by Ashlie Atkinson). As they cheer for the team (known as “The Wet Lips”) Ingrid finally seems to settle on a term for her semi-androgynous, gender bending self. She’ll go with “tweener.” Ashlie’s response: “it sounds like a toy that’s been recalled.”

The excellent writing and acting of episode 2 came as a relief after episode 1 in which we learn that Brooklynites fetishize their dogs. Dog fetishes have been done better most recently by Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein as “Dave and Kath” in Portlandia. No way to compete.

http://youtu.be/LZAruAk1kdU

 

The first F to 7th season had moments of genius in the writing and the acting, but it was uneven. About half the episodes were just peculiar. From me that’s usually a compliment; I’m the kind of person who likes experimental films. Thought provoking, discomforting midnight-at-the-movie-house type stuff? I’m in. But F to 7th peculiar was different. I couldn’t tell if I was supposed to be having a thought provoking experience or if I was just too dumb to get the joke.

In “Gyno,” for example, Stewart Thorndike guest stars as a flirty gynecologist who appears not to have gone to med school. She drops her instruments, forgets her gloves…there are old school prat falls. Are we supposed to think she is impersonating a doctor as some ruse to meet hot dykes? Or are we supposed to think she is so overwhelmed by Ingrid’s hard-to-pin-down beauty that she is rendered incompetent? I have no idea. I laughed, but it was uneasy laughter.

By contrast, the best episode of the season was “Family” with Amy Sedaris. Sedaris plays the straight aunt who meets up with Ingrid for lunch at a Brooklyn pub. As Aunt Kate downs margaritas, she mocks Ingrid for her gayness while simultaneously revealing how she fits every possible lesbian stereotype (from playing for the LPGA to driving a Subaru). Sedaris plays it over the top, but the pace is so fast and the one liners so hilarious it all works somehow. Best line of the episode: “I like all kinds of people! Fat. Bald. Women.”

Runner up for best episode is episode 3, “Interchangeable.” The episode begins with a sexually charged Internet chat between Ingrid and Ann (played by Ann Carr). Best line of the season comes in the Internet chat when Ingrid thinks better of what she had planned to type and instead tells Ann: “I would respect you from behind.” Shortly thereafter, Ann shows up for a booty call and needs to “take a minute.” Ingrid nips to the bedroom to put on her strap-on. Ann comes in wearing the same one. A surreal and hilarious dialog follows.

The struggles of  identity, of being a tweener, being interchangeable, being trans, being intersex –all the issues that Jungermann grappled with in her HuffPo article–while underlying every episode, come into high relief in the last two episodes of the F to 7th season. Up to this point the issues are present, but more-or-less subordinate to other central narratives. In the last two episodes the angst of Ingrid’s identity crisis takes over.

The penultimate episode features a hip trans party in Gowanus (with cameo from Casey Legler, the female French Olympic swimmer turned menswear model). The final episode is a prolonged exchange between Ingrid’s male and female personas –the morning after a one night stand– that relies on camera tricks presumably learned and loved at NYU. We got a taste of this in an early promo video for the F to 7th Kickstarter campaign in which Ingrid interviewed herself about the forthcoming project.

I thought the point of the series (and The Slope before it) was to be first humorous, then provocative (i.e. provoking thought about the status of gender identity in modern day Brooklyn, NY…and everywhere else). But by the end of Slope season 2 and F to 7th season one, I find myself wondering if I’ve had Jungermann’s goals backwards.

I wonder if Jungermann is worried that people will dismiss her writing as a bunch of inside jokes for a niche audience unless she couches it within weightier discourse. But  I was inclined to engage the social and sexual issues more while viewing the light-hearted episodes (2-4). The others made me tired, and the oddly incestuous relationship between animus + anima in episode 8 just left me feeling anxious.

Jungermann shines when she is critiquing society and pointing up its absurdities. You see it in the “It Gets Better” video on Slope season 1, and again in the “Family” episode with Amy Sedaris in F to 7th. When she moves into introspective analysis, I find myself too busy trying to navigate my own decent into lesbian middle-age to participate fully.

Finally, with the guest stars, it almost feels as if Jungermann is searching for a replacement for Desiree, or at least for the energy Desiree brought with her in The Slope. No one matches up. Sedaris is close, but she gallops away with the script and offers little room for Jungermann’s exquisitely timed responses. I suspect, even if I hadn’t seen the first series, I might have felt a kind of nameless absence if I only watched F to 7th.

Oddly enough, I am submitting this post from a hotel on the corner of F and 7th in Washington, DC. As I do so I am thinking how much I look forward to Ingrid Jungermann’s next projects, whatever they might be. F to 7th had moments of brilliance and I long to encounter her deft humor and uncanny insights into queer culture again, in whatever form she may present them.

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