Venice in its first season has many things going for it. One in particular is that it was done at all. Presently, dramas dependent on uncensored content, devoid of corporate strangleholds, have little other place of premier besides the internet. Open Book Productions harnessed the anticipatory power of an organized and largely unfulfilled fanbase and moved forward with their aspirations. Living the ultimate realization of a dream is something to celebrate.
Jessica Leccia brings to the character of Ani a guileless vulnerability that encourages the viewer to root for her. Roll after roll, over and over again, she puts herself out there until in the finale she inescapably decides to get off that emotional Magic Mountain that is Gina Brogno (Crystal Chappell) to find happiness in a lover without the nauseating twists and turns. Who knows what will happen next season. Will Ani grab a fast pass for Lara, or will she stand in that long, switch-back, line for Gina? Personally, I hope Ani’s happiest place on earth will be with Lara.
Though Lara (Nadia Bjorlin) is a bit of a blank slate at this point, I really don’t care; she isn’t Gina. For some reason, the character is likable and holds my interest. Perhaps I am merely cheering for Ani and this is transference on my part. Whatever the motivation, there is an anticipation that I don’t have for many of the other characters. Also, I would be remiss if I did not mention that Nadia Bjorlin came to this character cold as it was originally cast with Elizabeth Keener. It has been well publicized that upon arrival on the set to play her original role, Nadia stepped into the Lara part and has performed admirably.
Hillary B. Smith, episode two not withstanding, brings chemistry, maternal compassion, and humor to the series. Her passionate plea to the Colonel (Jordan Clarke) for parental understanding is one of my favorite scenes. Though the Colonel can be classified as stereotypical, such characteristics have their roots in reality, and though Gina waited until later in life to finally confront her homophobic father, she did it. Many of us either lost that chance because of life’s fated circumstances, or perhaps we are not quite as well adjusted as our critics, therefore, seeing the manifestation on screen is satisfying. On a selfish note, I have to say that while Crystal and Hillary stared longingly into each other’s eyes after a Goose downed evening in episode 9, I was pleading in my head, “Please make Guya the ADOPTED sister of Gina’s mother!” To this point, no scripted pairing has produced such a reaction.
Out of a much heralded cast, the standout surprise for me has to be Michelle N. Carter. There is something about Michelle’s character that makes me want to point and say, “Yeah, what she said,” every time she completes a sentence. She is not only Gina’s assistant, but her super ego with an attitude…not that there is any part of Gina’s moral compass that would respond to anyone less magnetic.
Technically, the series manipulates the beauty of the California beach through the use of high definition cameras to create a setting both visually pleasing and unique to many webseries. Couple the fabulous photography with the decision to utilize indie music artists as added definition, and Venice creates a secondary storyline that is complimentary to the first.
Though I believe Venice has the potential as a continuing drama on the web, I believe as a viewer, some parts of this freshman season series need adjustment. My biggest disappointment is there are too many characters to establish a full depth of development in the amount of time the production team arced for one season. The “morning after scene” with Gina and Ani through the “body in the garage discovery” could have easily encompassed 24 to 36 complex episodes. I would have preferred the episode 7 good-bye scene to have been the season one cliff hanger with much more character development in between. I have said it before, please, show me, don’t tell me. Of course, I can fill in the blanks myself, but as a viewer, I shouldn’t have to.
Not lost on me is that Gina, a character with the most number of scenes, is the least dimensional of the characters. I watch each episode with the hope that this will be the week I like her. Do something to expose her vulnerability. Hell, show her buying a few beach orphans a shave ice, something, something that will tell me she is more than mean, crass, manipulative, and drunk. As I said in my review of episode 7, Gina shows glimpses of humanity when she allows her personal walls a certain opaqueness. Show me more. Give me the slightest impression as to why Gina can’t commit. A tent pole character doesn’t have to be without its nicks and its knots, it just has to be strong enough to support the apex of the canvas.
Crystal Chappell is one of the most talented actresses in any genre at delivering an emotionally charged scene. Give her (and me) the bridge to get there. Unfortunately, the writing for Gina’s final scene with Ani is an abrupt bridge to nowhere. As with other important arcing sequences of this season, there are significant gaps in composition. Gina schizophrenically overreacts to Ani’s rejection of their dysfunctional relationship. I would have given more credence to this emotional outburst had I been privy to insight as to whether episode 7 had actually been the last time these two were alone together.
Had they been given more of a reactive catalyst, the chemistry between Gina and Tracy (Lesli Kay) could have been perceived as more inciting than a child’s science project. In episode 11, when Gina and Tracy throw each other against the wall, the audience is quickly cut to the product and left to assume the initial substance. In the finale, Tracy emotionally pronounces she is falling in love with Gina. How and when did this happen? Without revealing the fundamentals of the motivation, what’s left is an unbalanced equation. There is something to be said for giving Gina and Tracy the same relationship litmus test that Ani and Lara are given.
Season one ends with Gina answering a call for reinforcements from the Colonel and finding what appears to be a lifeless, handcuffed woman in his garage. I have to admit, my first reaction was please let this be Tracy…or at least the personification of her bad British accent. Cut to black, listen to the music, and wait for season two.
And about next season, I say please, no stunts and no Chaiken things up. Develop the three dimensions of the twosomes before you work on the threesomes. Take your time, ladies. Contrary to fanatical belief, good is worth waiting for…with all elements of this potentially very successful show.