In The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, back in 2013, there was exactly one queer character. He was a side character with an offscreen love interest created solely so that people wouldn’t ship him with Lizzie at that pivotal point in the story.
2014 was when LIWs really took off, and it was also when there were the greatest differences in LGBTQ+ representation (though no one was very good at it yet). Series like Emma Approved and Green Gables Fables (we’re talking Season One here) had none. Other series, like From Mansfield With Love, made a side character who didn’t have a love interest be gay. So far, no one was really gender-bending or reimagining anything to make it gayer.
But Shakespeare is about the gayest off-copyright source material there is, so it was pretty much impossible to correctly adapt Shakespeare and make it end up totally straight.
From our 2017 standpoint, NMTD looks pretty heterosexual, but it was actually about as queer as any LIW can be without departing from the source material (though we’ll get to Twelfth Grade a little later on). Hero’s moms, though absent, are accepted by everyone, as is Balthazar, who is of course very gay despite never using that word in NMTD (The Candle Wasters really don’t like actually saying things, do they?). But it was Pedro’s coming out that really changed the tides. Goodbye queerbaiting, hello to the possibility of onscreen characters entering into non-heterosexual relationships.
2015 was a transition year in many ways. It was no longer acceptable to make an LIW without some form of queer representation, but the methods were all over the place. Some LIWs put a queer pairing center stage – Pedrazar being the prime example, however you feel about LLL – while most series started to create queer side pairings, either through gender-bending or through creating new arcs for the characters. A few examples of this from 2015 would be George Squared from Call Me Katie, Smarling from The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy, and Jamie and Isabella from Northbound. Of course, some LIWs still did LBD-style representation – The Misselthwaite Archives comes to mind – but it was now because the creators wanted queer representation and not because they wanted to avert certain het ships.
Then 2016 happened. We, the viewers, were no longer willing to tolerate entirely cishet shows. 2016 saw the rise of trans and genderqueer LIW characters at long last – Puck in Bright Summer Night and Serena in The Adventures of Serena Berg being the prime examples – as well as multiple characters on the ace spectrum. And with the rise of young, bisexual webseries creators, the number of bisexual characters skyrocketed.
So let’s talk about Twelfth Grade for a minute. I won’t lie and call this series the gayest thing I’ve ever seen, but it is probably the biest. All three of the leads are bisexual, and no one is straight. Literally no one. And no matter who you shipped, it was likely a possibility if not a reality. Again, this was made possible by the source material, which is just about the biest thing ever written, and by the new LIW atmosphere, which was demanding – and getting – the queer representation that just doesn’t exist anywhere else.
Gender-bending skyrocketed in 2016, both with side characters and with mains. And now, in 2017, cishet characters are starting to be the minority. The Emma Agenda and Middlemarch: The Series, my two favorite currently-airing LIWs, have both gender-bent logically and competently all over the place in order to keep canon mostly intact while also making it much, much more diverse. Very few current LIW ships are m/f, and of those, even fewer characters are completely heterosexual.
We’ve come a long way since the days of LBD. and we couldn’t have gotten here without a lot of hard work and thinking and the bravery to tell stories the way we wanted them told. I’m not saying heterosexuality should vanish from LIWs, but I think that the direction we’ve come in is the right one. When a series like NLTS or MMTS gives the same amount of drama to queer pairings as to straight ones, when characters like Roxanne Roberts or Bathsheba Everdeen struggle with their identities in relatable ways, it normalizes every part of the human experience and continues to make LIWs the most representative form of media I know.
While I know I skipped a lot of important moments and didn’t mention several very diverse series, I used examples that I hope most people will be familiar with and that won’t be too spoilery.
LIW creators: keep doing what you’re doing. It is noticed and appreciated. Thank you.
Posted (late) in honor of the third anniversary of the first episode on March 26th.
Nothing Much To Do has been the gold standard in literary-inspired webseries for close to three years. The series won eight out of ten awards (best supporting actress, best costume and set design, best ensemble cast, the honorary award, best script, best actress, best actor, and best LIW) at the first-ever literary-inspired webseries awards in 2015.
NMTD was created by The Candle Wasters, a group of four young women from New Zealand who decided they’d like to create a Shakespeare adaptation. They chose Much Ado About Nothing and set it at Messina High School in Auckland, New Zealand, where Beatrice Duke has moved to stay with her cousin Hero while her parents are in Australia. Bea decides to take up vlogging, and that’s where the story starts.
Beatrice Duke’s parents move to Australia, and she chooses to spend her last year of high school at Messina High with her dear cousin Hero, her old friend Pedro, her arch nemesis Benedick, and the rest of the gang. Hero has a crush on soccer goalie Claudio, and when it starts looking like things might be on track for the pair of them, the characters decide, led by Pedro, to get Beatrice and Benedick together. The result is a romantic comedy musical of Shakespearean proportions, with the occasional flamingo or bathtub thrown in, just for good measure.
The series takes place across three YouTube channels, all of which are essential for understanding the entire story. The main channel is Nothing Much To Do, home to Beatrice and Hero’s weekly vlogs. Once he sees Beatrice doing it, Benedick decides to take up vlogging as well. His channel is called benaddicktion. The third channel, Watch Projects, is home to Ursula’s film projects, Verges and Dogberry’s detective show, and Balthazar’s music videos.
NMTD was the first webseries in which all of the content on all YouTube channels was equally important to the plot. The description boxes on every video were written in character and were often as important as the content of the videos themselves (see “An Ode” and “one foot on sea one on shore one in the boiling hot lava”). The titles of the videos also reflect the personalities the person uploading them (Benedick, for example, gives all his videos one-word titles that are thematically linked in his mind to the contents of said video).
The Candle Wasters stayed up late to upload videos when the characters would have. The characters interacted with the audience (and once with each other) in the comments section. Beatrice also had a Twitter account, Hero had an Instagram, and Ursula had a Tumblr, and the transmedia supplemented the story but was not necessary for understanding it.
Also, these people act both like the characters in the play and like actual high schoolers, which is rare in any sort of adaptation, much less one with no budget.
The only non-white character is Ursula, who is of Asian descent, but the LGBTQ+ representation is strong, especially for 2014. Hero and Leo have two moms, who are off on their belated honeymoon for the duration or the series. Balthazar is openly gay (though he never actually uses that word). There’s also another semi-surprising and very satisfying coming out in one of the final episodes.
Astonishingly good for not having a budget, because The Candle Wasters put in the extra effort to borrow good film equipment and to edit skillfully.
My three favorite things about NMTD:
1) Benedick’s bathtub vlogs
2) The music. Seriously. These people deserve many awards for the music in this show.
3) “one foot on sea one on shore one in the boiling hot lava” – you have to watch it to know why.
While I personally don’t find any faults in this webseries, there are a few things about it that are difficult for other people. The Candle Wasters have a hatred of exposition, so a lot of background information is late, vague, or nonexistent. It can also be hard to understand all of what’s going on if you don’t read the video descriptions, which is an extra step not required by many other webseries. Racial diversity, as I said, is low, but considering the resources The Candle Wasters had at the time, I can’t fault them for that. Besides, every last one of their casting choices was perfect.
NMTD takes a famous Shakespeare play and, while staying completely true to the story, manages to bring in discussions of slut-shaming, create queer representation that doesn’t even go against canon, AND make the whole thing a musical. They explored the vlogseries format almost to its limits. And the characters are just so loveable.
I would recommend this webseries to anyone and everyone with any interest in Shakespeare, feminism, musicals, literary-inspired webseries, or a whole load of other things. My love for NMTD is eclipsed only by my love for the sequel, Lovely Little Losers, so stay tuned for that review soon.
5/5 stars. And I probably won’t be giving out many of those.
Wow, that got long. I wouldn’t have written a review this long for anything else, I swear.
Somewhere in fictional!New Zealand, Beatrice Duke and Benedick Hobbes are complaining to each other about how annoying Valentines Day is, whilst cuddling and eating chocolate they definitely did not buy on purpose for the holiday but instead were keeping around for chocolate salads.
Hey fandles! This Sunday March 26th marks 3 years since we released the first episode of ‘Nothing Much To Do’!
We wanted to celebrate this milestone with you all by doing a communal re-watch of the series. We’re using a website where we can all watch the episodes at the same time and anyone can add comments while we watch. The Candle Wasters will all be there and we may even manage to convince a few cheeky cast members to join the fun in the comments section!
The re-watch will be starting at 2:30pm NZST and should end around 7:30pm NZST. We’ll post the link to the site on Sunday, see you then!!