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Husbands, the web series co-created by Buffy the Vampire Slayer writer Jane Espenson, already surprised fans with a guest appearance in its first season by Firefly star Nathan Fillion. But Sunday at Comic-Con International, the creators revealed another casting coup for the Season 2: Joss Whedon.
The series, which premiered in September, centers on two openly gay celebrities named Cheeks and Brady, played by co-creator Brad “Cheeks” Bell (VH1’s Pop Up Video) and Sean Hemeon (As the World Turns), who while casually dating get drunk and wake up to discover they’re married. Afraid to look bad to the gay community, they decide to see whether they work things out and if they actually are meant to spend their lives together.
After a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, production has begun on Season 2, which will feature Buffy creator Whedon as Brady’s agent, who isn’t wild about his client being married to a famous and flamboyant gay man.
A clip of Whedon’s performance was shown, leading the audience to go wild.
“We’ve been sitting on that Joss Whedon news like it was a frakking egg!” said Espenson, a former co-executive producer on Battlestar Galactica. “And I just felt it hatch!”
“And Jane’s been sitting on that line, too!” Hemeon remarked, laughing along fellow panelists Bell and director Jeff Greenstein.
“[Joss Whedon] is in all three episodes of our season,” Greenstein added.
“He’s a great actor!” Hemeon proclaimed, laughing but earnest.
“How do you direct Joss Whedon?” moderator Jenna Busch asked, which prompted Greenstein to reply, “Respectfully.”
“I don’t think he would’ve done it if he hadn’t liked the material,” Espenson said. “He knows that’s his face and that’s a valuable thing. So he read the material and gave us that quote, ‘This has jokes in it I wish I had written.’ And he was like, ‘I’ll be there!’”
Initially, the show was meant to star Bell and Allesandra Torresani’s character Haley. But while Espenson found the story funny, she found herself saying, “I wish it had that ripped-from-the-headlines feel. How’s this going to change the world?”
“And I said I don’t know,” Bell admitted. “We got into a different conversation, it was about I Love Lucy. And one thing led to another and then we were like, oh my God, newlyweds! That’s it!”
“A married-couple comedy,” Espenson continued. “It’s what TV does very, very well. They still haven’t done our version of it … and really addressed marriage equality.”
And what brought Greenstein to direct after writing for shows such as Desperate Housewives and Will & Grace?
“One of the things that I liked about this script when Jane and Cheeks first showed it to me is it felt like the next step in the depiction of gay characters on TV,” he explained. “I really feel like TV has been in reverse since Will & Grace. I don’t feel that the progressive depiction of gay people as people who love and lose the same as straight people do has really been particularly extended since then. I get in trouble when I say this, but I feel like, for example, Glee preaches basic messages of tolerance that feels like something I would have seen in the 1980s as opposed to 2012.”
The audience immediately applauded, and Greenstein continued, “What I liked about this was that it showed two men who were in a love relationship and were trying to figure out the same things that all young marrieds try to figure out. Are we compatible? How much do we know about each other? … This really did feel like the next step beyond Will & Grace. If we had ever spun Will off, this might have been the kind of show we would have done with him!”
“Ooh, I love that!” Espenson exclaimed. “I don’t think we could ask for a better compliment than that.”
In Husbands, three weeks have gone by and the couple is now living in a new house, still enjoying the “honeymoon phase” of their relationship. But the fact that they are both high-profile celebrities begins to invite new problems.
“There’s an individual identity and an identity you present as a couple and they haven’t even begun to figure out,” Bell said. “How do we present ourselves together?”
But for Bell, there’s the additional challenge of writing and playing a character based on himself.
“I think that there’s an advantage in writing your own voice because you’re tailoring it to your actual self,” he said. “It’s also very weird. … Once you make a character of yourself, the further along you move in time away from it, the more and more you become not like that person. Because it’s a snapshot of who you were. It’s kinda weird and introspective, you guys! Let’s get deep for a second.”
Could the show work on television? Or is online media the future of entertainment?
“I think it’s the present of entertainment,” Bell answered. “The benefit of going to a platform like television would be money. And money is generally very good. Unfortunately, when there’s that much money involved, there are a lot of things you have to do to make sure that you are making the people happy that are giving you the money … and you kind of have to follow their rules. There isn’t a bigger platform than the Internet. I would rather just start down that path now.”