“Please, give us another chance. Let us be here for you (Dave).
That’s what families are for. (Theo)”
–Unproductive (Season 1: Episode 10 “The Ex Files”)
Unproductive is a unique web series that portrays a group of college friends as they struggle not only with their semester assignments, but also with their personal lives as they try to maintain both their friendships and their identities. Each of the characters on the show had their own personal challenges that they had to face and overcome not only to save themselves, but their newfound family. Each character had to learn that in the end, you can’t control life. Life happens and sometimes it is messy, spontaneous and irrational. In the end, however, you always have your friends and if you’re lucky, they’re more than friends; they’re family.
In my first blog about Unproductive episodes 1-4, I predicted that the group would eventually fall apart leaving everyone to hate everyone else. I also predicted that the group would split apart eventually leaving the characters to have to reconcile with each other. I can say that I was right with these predictions. What I didn’t expect, however, was Sam’s conflict throughout the show. In episode 7 “All in the Same Sam-ily”, the audience was exposed to Sam’s story and background. The audience learns that Sam never told her parents she was gay and we see her parent’s rejection of the notion once they finally find out. This episode added a twist that I did not quite expect. I liked how her conflict extended beyond herself. It wasn’t just about her parents refusing to accept that she’s gay. Her problems included her feelings of abandonment by the group in which they were so caught up in themselves, they were completely blind to what she was going through. It added a whole new layer and depth to the Unproductive story that I appreciated.
What intrigued me the most about this episode, however, was learning about Sam’s upbringing. In episode 7, the viewer learns that Sam is from a wealthy family. Her parents obviously have very strong connections, to the point where Sam’s father was able to get her into Yale. Sam rejected this opportunity, however, and decided to attend KMC. When Bracha asks why she passed up such an amazing opportunity, Sam tells her that she refused to be around “the same sheltered rich kids who made my life miserable”. She also informs her that she knew she didn’t deserve a spot at Yale. She knew she wasn’t “smart” enough to get in on her own and that the only reason she was even offered a spot was because of her father.
This episode made Sam my favorite character in the series. I admired her and her humbleness. Her decision to pass up Yale, to me, spoke volumes about her character. She wanted to break away from her upbringing and sheltered life. She didn’t want the “rich kid” life who was afforded every opportunity simply because of their social standing. She wanted to earn her rewards and accomplishments. She wanted to do things on her own and prove that she could make it without any hand-outs. For these reasons I grew to love Sam and her personality.
Although I felt that Sam and her story brought a little extra flavor to the series, each character was vital to the show and their challenges were equally important to the storyline. Dave’s conflict, for example, was consistently shown throughout the show in as early as episode 3 even though the rise of his conflict is not really prominent until episode 5. In episode 5, “Breaking Ben” Ben discovers that Dave has decided to kick him out of the group because his emotional problems with Cate was slowing down the group’s work and efficiency. Although everyone else appears to agree that Ben’s personal life was interfering with their work, they don’t want Ben gone from the group. Dave, trying to assert himself as the boss, goes along with this decision anyway.
This one action began to sprout a seed of tension between Dave and the rest of group as he kept trying to affirm his place in the group as the “boss” and kept trying to impress Parker, the professor of the class. This tension is seen continuously throughout the rest of the episodes even until episode 11, “Game of Thermos”. In this episode, Professor Parker invites Dave to a private meeting and tells him the story of her thermos. She raises her beat-up, old thermos in the air and tells Dave that being a producer, isn’t about the flash. It isn’t about the glamor or trying to act or look like a producer. A producer’s worth is only in what he/she produces and that is all. I particularly liked this episode because Parker was never really an adamant part in the students’ lives. There are different episodes in which she gives warning to her students about their behavior, but we never really see her as a mentor. In episode 11, she claims to have all this faith in Dave and tells him that she knows he will be a brilliant producer. Although I liked that this moment showed Parker in another light, it was a little off putting. We never really see Parker make any acknowledgement to Dave or his skills and here at almost the end of the series, we see this sudden burst of faith in her that implies she had a soft spot for him after all. I wish that I could have seen more personal interactions between Parker and her students even if they were just slight nods of acknowledgement.
Even though characters like Dave and Sam had clear, direct storylines, not all the character’s “journeys” were clear at first. For example, Theo seemed more of like a background character for me and his troubles weren’t really clear or direct to the audience compared to someone like Dave. Theo was obviously affected by the strain felt by each member of the group, but we never really see his own personal tribulation. In episodes 6 and 8, the audience is shown Theo’s anger and resentment towards Cate for breaking up with Ben. Her actions clearly affect him to the point where he starts smoking a cigarette and tells her how selfish she was. From episodes like these, I could understand why Theo might be troubled. But then in episode 9 “Don’t Trust the B on Teleprompter 3”, Theo is all of a sudden passive aggressive to Ben when he tries to help him out with the ladder simply because Dave made a remark about Theo always following Ben around. Even in episode 10 “The Ex Files”, Theo admits to not knowing who he’s even mad at anymore. He just knows he’s angry. To me, Theo’s personal journey wasn’t as prominent or profound as the rest of the other characters. Instead we see him fall apart simply because everyone else was falling apart.
I think in the end, however, we still see Theo’s growth as a person. Based off of comments made by Cate, Parker and Sam, Theo appears to be the “kid” of the group. He’s lazy, sometimes childish and sometimes obnoxious. Sam even apparently cuts the crust off his sandwiches. But by the end of the series, in episode 12 “How I Met Your Parker”, Theo steps up and is there for Sam when she needed someone to talk to. In the end, he realizes that as much as everyone else, especially Sam takes care of him, sometimes he needs to do the same. He can’t always be the one to be coddled and reassured. Sam and everyone else needs him as much as he needs them. They are all his family; and family should always be there for each other.
Family; that’s the word that comes to mind when I think of this web series and I think that it is a concept that is played with a little throughout the show. For Sam, her family was unsupportive and controlling. She really found no comfort in them. Bracha had the same experience. For her, her family was almost ashamed for the route she decided to choose for her life. In episode 7, Bracha tells Sam that when she left her community, her parents didn’t even say anything to her. Her mother didn’t even want to speak to her. This had a tremendous affect on Bracha where in episode 9 she begins to doubt the decision she made and pushes everyone away, including Ben. Although episode 12 portrayed Sam and Cate making up with Bracha, there is never a clear distinct dialogue between the two, resolving the issue. Although from the interactions between her and the rest of the members, it was implied that all was forgiven.
It was through each of these conflicts that Unproductive, toyed with the idea of “family” and how family sometimes are just those who are closest to you, who will stick by you even in your darkest moments. As I watched the final episodes of the Unproductive web series, I came to realize that the bond these characters have with each other reminded me of my own family of friends. Some say blood is thicker than water, but I disagree. Loyalty and commitment, that’s what truly makes a family. I would like to think that by the end of season 1, each of the characters understood that.