Dates Like This, a web series in its second season, tells the story of a twentysomething lesbian named Meg and her straight best friend Alicia as they navigate the dating scene in New York City. The series is a modern twist on the romantic comedy, featuring a young gay woman in a role typically reserved for a young, starry-eyed, heterosexual ingenue, as she goes on a quest for true love.
I was intrigued by the premise immediately, as I am always intrigued by stories that promise fresh twists on traditional plots. But it wasn’t until my meeting with the show’s co-creators, Hannah Vaughn and Leigh Poulos, that I learned that this particular fresh twist happened almost by accident.
Vaughn and Poulos met in 2010 while working at a bakery in uptown Manhattan, and bonded quickly over their experiences as actors with a theater background trying to get more film experience. They were attracted to the idea of working on a web series because of the “immediate accessibility of a still-emerging platform.” The plot of the series, however, didn’t come about until Vaughn’s sister alerted her to a man on the Internet who was looking to complete a “30 dates in 30 days” project, and suggested that Vaughn “apply” to be one of the dates.
As it turned out, Vaughn decided not to follow that dating advice, but the suggestion led to the structure of the web series that would become Dates Like This.
“We were attracted to a traditional narrative form,” said Poulos, “but we also wanted to incorporate a series of vignettes, and the ’30 dates in 30 days structure’ allowed us to work with both formats at once.”
But after they sat down and created storylines and characters for their series, they saw that their planned structure would lead to some challenges in the casting process.
“We realized that, if we followed the 30 dates in 30 days structure, we would have to cast 30 different guys,” said Vaughn. “And we knew all of these great actresses-”
“-and wanted to create more parts for women our age,” added Poulos. “So we thought, why not make Meg a lesbian so we can call our female friends? And as we progressed, we realized that [by making the Meg character a lesbian], we opened ourselves to a target market and niche audience. It gave us something that made our series special and unique. We immediately got a leg up on connecting to a community in an unanticipated way.”
The feedback they received was immediate: aside from a few less-than-complimentary comments about production quality, response was overwhelmingly positive – though several viewers were convinced that the horrible dating stories upon which the storylines were based couldn’t possibly true. (Vaughn and Poulos assured me that they were all true, right down to the woman who obnoxiously “poked” Meg several times as though she were a walking Facebook timeline instead of a flesh-and-blood person.)
They also received some unexpected feedback about the nature of Meg and Alicia’s relationship, with many viewers wondering if the two friends were going to hook up down the line – a twist in the friends’ relationship that Poulos mentioned was something they explore in the second season of the show.
A few episodes into the second season, Dates Like This already has a slightly different tone from its first. While the first season focused on the girls’ romantic lives and friendship with each other, the second season shows Meg and Alicia’s worlds expanding and the women interacting with different groups of friends. A year has passed, Meg’s “30 Dates in 30 Days” project is over, and the women are in a different phase of their lives.
“The first season was very insulated about Meg and Alicia’s relationships and their point of view,” said Vaughn.
“The second season is about them trying to apply the things they think they’ve learned, and to see Meg in the context of a real lesbian community,” said Poulous. “What it’s like for her to have a straight best friend and what that entails for both of them. What it’s like to explore all sides of your identity.”
When I asked them what sets their series apart from the other web series exploding on the Internet, they cited Meg’s character development and her place in life as a selling point.
“She’s a gay character who’s not a ‘quirky gay friend,’ or fashion designer, or the lesbian friend of the group,” said Poulos. “The sexual preferences of our characters are secondary to the humanity of our characters, which is one of the thing I’m most proud of about our series.”
“From watching more lesbian movies,” said Vaughn, “it always seems to be that one of them is totally comfortable with being a lesbian and has been in that place for years, where another character is in a relationship with a guy and being ‘awakened’ to her true feelings…and that does make a good movie, but I wanted to have our characters be well-established and know who they are.”
Having watched the first season and some of the second, I can confirm that the characters of Dates Like This have a strong sense of who they are and what they want, even if they’re still figuring out the details.
Dates Like This had its second season premiere on June 11, 2013, and will debut new episodes every Tuesday. You can catch up on the series here.