YouTube is staking its claim in the land of the relationship dramedy.
Starting this Wednesday, Carly Craig’s Sideswiped, an eight-episode original series following a gun-shy single woman named Olivia Maple (Craig) as she throws herself into dates with the 252 Tinder matches she swiped right on in a panicked, drunken fuzz while out with her mother and sister on her 35th birthday, will be available to all YouTube Premium subscribers. (Premium is the recent rebrand of YouTube Red—one seemingly done in acknowledgement that YouTube has heretofore struggled to clarify the differences among its streaming products.) And if you’re a fan of relationship dramedies like Please Like Me, Catastrophe, and Lovesick, the site’s newest offering is right up your alley: Sideswiped is remarkably (if cringingly) sweet.
By all rights, it shouldn’t be. So many of the details that comprise Sideswiped, on paper, read as the most reductive kind of cliché: Olivia, already anchoring the series with the assumed shamefulness of her agèd (read, statistically normal) singledom, is reminded within the show’s first five minutes—by a hot doctor replacing her regular gynecologist at the last minute, no less—that fertility declines rapidly after the age of 35 (sure, if you’re a rural French peasant women in the 1600s). Later, before signing her up for Tinder without her consent, Olivia’s sister, Jayne (Chelsea Frei), doubles down on that (incorrect) warning, floating the specter of desiccating ovaries over the sputtering flames of Olivia’s candle-crowded birthday cupcake. Not content to let her daughter spend her birthday panicking only over her aging insides, Olivia’s mom, Mary (Rosanna Arquette), gives a gift certificate for her (“first!”) Botox session.
Don’t worry. It gets worse. Jayne—younger, married, with a baby so new she’s still nursing—is so anxious about her appearance that she is not only “off carbs,” she wears Spanx under her workout gear. Mary, meanwhile, is so un-confident as a single woman that the only way she can manage to go out to dinner alone is by arming herself with a rehearsed story about a made-up “friend” whose “flat tire” has prevented her from joining Mary for “their” night out at the restaurant. And don’t even get me started on the 25-year-old personal trainer bro who only matches with Olivia to see what hooking up with a “cougar” is like.
Like, I want to set my keyboard on fire just typing all that out, it’s so insultingly insipid. And yet, when the pilot episode opened on that awkward birthday gynecologist exam (guest starring Jason Sudeikis as the hot doctor/surprise replacement), I was immediately charmed, and only grew fonder of the series as the two episodes provided for review went on.
What saves the show, in the end, is the utter, un-bombastic earnestness with which Craig and co-stars Arquette and Frei live out these gross clichés, imbuing them with an unfakeable, sometimes desperate realness that elevates each damnable stereotype to authentic, affecting truth. A woman nearing fifty and still lacking the confidence to sit alone with herself for dinner without dressing up and pretending she’s waiting for a friend is sad, yes, but it’s also sad. In Arquette’s delicately shaky hands, we’re reminded of the difference between sad-as-judgment and sad-as-heartbreaking, and that most people who go through the real world feeling the kind of anxiety she evinces belong to the latter category, and deserve to be considered with compassion and complexity. Similarly, Frei’s performance as Olivia’s image-conscious, marriage-obsessed sister is breezy and naturalistic, lifting the character from caricature to messily human—Jayne is not someone putting on fragile femininity and marriage culture anxieties as part of an act, nor is she meant to be an avatar of everything in modern American dating-and-mating culture that Olivia is meant to avoid and we in the audience are meant to laugh at. She is just who she is, a bit basic and fully in on being married and being a woman living how women are expected to live, but funny and compassionate and in love with her husband and family. She, like Mary and Olivia (who Craig plays as the good-if-imperfect woman you’re sure you are in your head), is not always happy, but she’s not a joke. Despite Sideswiped’s silly premise, not even the two dudes Olivia has gone on dates with thus far—played with real sizzle by Thomas Lennon and Tyler Posey—are made out to be jokes. The joke, on Sideswiped, is life itself.
Not for nothing, series creator/lead Carly Craig leaned on her own digital dating experiences to develop Sideswiped. That realism shines through, not just in the performances, but in the series’ whole production. The color palette is neither muted nor heightened; the musical cues subtly support only what is on the screen; the few stylized smash cuts and close-ups that exist only do so to add to Olivia’s, Mary’s, and Jayne’s characterization by following their most lizard brain-y thoughts. The sex, most importantly, is not sexy. Everything, down to the awkward hot doc gynecologist visit, just feels true (trust every one of us in the audience who has had to get a pap smear on that one, any of you out there who haven’t), and that is Sideswiped’s biggest victory.
Ultimately, the only quibble I ended up having with the series is that there is nothing about it that makes it more at home on YouTube than on Starz or HBO or Amazon—between its salty language and its fairly graphic sex scenes, it would need to land somewhere premium or streaming, but it could land. Actually, because of its salty language and fairly graphic sex scenes, I’m pretty curious (anxious?) about how being a YouTube Original will make it more accessible to audiences of all ages, even behind YouTube Premium’s paywall, than perhaps it ought to be. Not that I’m a prude, and not that kids aren’t clever enough to access their parents’ HBO Go accounts or flip to Cinemax or MTV or FX late at night—or, for that matter, find any level of mature content they want just by opening up any incognito browser tab—but the synergistic simplicity that made Impulse such a perfect fit for the social YouTube space makes Sideswiped, in turn, kind of a nightmare, and the YouTube Originals homepage, organized only by genre category, offers no kind of content guidance, let alone control, for parents who might want either one.
Aside from that possibly big caveat, Sideswiped is absolutely worth your time. It is, if nothing else, definitely a better way to spend eight half-hours than going on 252 Tinder dates.
Sideswiped premieres Wednesday, July 25 on YouTube Premium.
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic whose writing has appeared on Forever Young Adult, Screener, and Birth.Movies.Death. She’ll go ten rounds fighting for teens and intelligently executed genre fare to be taken seriously by pop culture. She can be found @AlexisKG.