It’s hard to make a TV show without studio backing; there’s no good television equivalent to an indie film. Even if you compare network hits to blockbusters and series on premium / streaming to low or mid-budget movies, the reality is that the scope of a TV production is such that truly independent shows, ones that aren’t beholden to a network—even a niche one—is incredibly rare.
That’s one of the things that makes Everyone Is Doing Great unique in a TV landscape filled with sameness. The short 8-episode half-hour series was presented and shopped around initially as a comedy pilot, but it was completed thanks to an Indiegogo campaign. To make that happen, Everyone Is Doing Great (a title I almost unfailingly refer to as “Everybody Is Doing Good”) leaned into the lingering popularity of its creators and leads, One Tree Hill stars James Lafferty and Stephen Colletti. While I usually find it unconscionable that celebrities crowdfund anything when they have money, resources, and connections, I’ll allow it for Lafferty and Colletti who—bless them—are really on the very cusp of being considered celebrities in the first place.
That kind of humble, self-aware charm is what makes their series (now streaming on Hulu) so affable. The two play actors coasting on the success of their teen drama (in this case, a vampire series called “Eternal”) which ended five years earlier. Colletti’s Seth Stewart is a motivated go-getter who can’t get casting directors to consider him for better, more serious roles, while Lafferty’s Jeremy Davis is a sweet idiot who is completely adrift. Simple vignettes explore how the two men are dealing—or rather, not dealing—with the reality of their lives now. Seth is doing all he can and Jeremy is doing next to nothing, but both are floundering in the abyss of a scathingly portrayed L.A. scene.
The subgenre of series that focus on minor celebrities playing fictionalized versions of themselves in ways that expose the truths of the Hollywood machine is a rich one indeed, and it’s clear that a lot of Everyone Is Doing Great is inspired by real experiences. (Lafferty and Colletti co-wrote the series, with Lafferty directing seven of the episodes and Colletti directing the remaining one). A cinéma vérité style with improv elements augments this, clearly taking some cues (including musical ones) from series like Curb Your Enthusiasm and even It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. But whereas those shows are often caustic in their humor, Everyone Is Doing Great is much milder, with an earnest energy. It’s a refreshing change.
Though it can be a little narratively rocky at times, especially with its female characters, the series’ weaker moments are smoothed over thanks to the clear rapport among the cast. There is a warmth and a kind of inclusiveness that feels incredibly natural, especially in the way both Lafferty and Colletti are willing to showcase the small, intimate details of friendship and bachelor life—from daily grooming routines to, sometimes, just being honestly gross dudes. The show is never vulgar, though, and occasionally it’s quite beautiful; both Lafferty and Colletti are a capable directors, and cinematographer Johnny Derango paints L.A. with lush, vibrant tones.
That bachelor life is new to Jeremy, who spends most of the season coming to terms (or not) with the fact that his successful wife, Andrea (played by real-life fiancée Alexandra Park), is divorcing him. He has no money, no job, and no prospects. But he does have a good friend, and the Odd Couple dynamic between Jeremy and Seth is the driving force of the series.
As the two men try to salvage their personal lives and consider their next move, there are so many little details about former teen drama stars that feel lived in—because, of course, for these two they are. There is talk of a reunion show, Seth considers returning to the stage, the guys are recognized and occasionally mobbed by fans. Their level of fame isn’t enough to get them out of things (parking tickets, late fees at the library, minor destruction of property), but they are able to make quick cash by selling t-shirts to fans on Instagram. They’re held back because they just can’t seem to get out of their own way, and yet, they have just enough going for them and are just likable enough that you want to see them succeed.
Everyone Is Doing Great itself succeeds in feeling real, familiar in the right ways, and proving that a true indie TV show can actually work and look like something a studio would produce. Not that any creator would want to have to make an indie series; it’s clear how much was put in by Colletti and Lafferty, whose names are repeated throughout the credits alongside friends and family, not to mention the difficulty of getting a successful crowdfunding campaign to work in the first place.
Hulu’s acquisition of the show for streaming is likely a trial balloon of sorts, although promotion has been slim. It’s a shame; Everyone Is Doing Great is in the vein of series like Detroiters (Comedy Central), Baskets (FX), and Downward Dog (ABC): sweet, small, funny stories that combine a focus on character with a soft, beautiful visual styles that their networks never really knew how to promote. Though these other shows might have more polish, they’re also all gone from the airwaves now, and never made more than a ripple in the Peak TV scene. And yet, as those who watched them at the time or have discovered since can attest, they are quietly joyful tales told through a humorous and heartfelt lens.
Everyone Is Doing Great brings that same energy to its story—it’s simple, charming, entertaining. Yes Jeremy and Seth are doofuses, but they realize that. They grow, or try to. As Andrea says when she spots a stoned Jeremy on a street corner after wandering to the grocery store in his Uggs, her friend Isabella (Cariba Heine) says casually “Oh my god, he looks so lost.” That really sums it up. Lost boys, but not quite forgotten by the industry they grew up in and are holding on to. Not yet, anyway.
All 8 episodes of Everyone Is Doing Great are now streaming on Hulu.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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