Kelsey Rauber didn’t set out to create a web series based on her own life. Her background was in writing features and her passion was in creating original characters. She’s written comedic shorts with her sister and a screenplay that won the Grand Prize in Comedy in the New York City Screenplay Contest.
“I enjoy writing about things I don’t understand,” she says. “There are a lot of big questions that no one the answers to – questions about getting older, death, or love – and that’s what I write about.”
Making a semi-autobiographical web series was never on her agenda. But then she told the story of a disastrous date to her Hunter College classmate Christina Raia, and everything changed. Something about the story of a woman going on a first date after getting dumped and having her face nearly sucked off by an aggressive kisser had irresistible comic appeal.
“I didn’t want to name the show Kelsey at all,” says Rauber. “We were looking for a name for a very long time, and Christina [director and co-creator] suggested it. I told her the story, and she said, ‘That’s really funny – we should do a short about this!’”
The short eventually turned into a web series, and while Rauber was uncertain about basing a series on her life, it wasn’t due to lack of potential storylines. “Plenty of crazy things happen to me,” she says, laughing. “I’ve got enough material.”
Kelsey the Series is about a young woman who is dumped after a long relationship and loses herself while her friends try to get her back into the dating world. It’s the standard “quirky girl” romantic comedy setup, with one notable difference: the quirky girl happens to be a lesbian, and it’s another woman who broke her heart.
But the main character’s sexual orientation isn’t what makes Kelsey different from other romantic comedies set in New York City. The pilot plays very much like a typical romantic comedy about a woman who’s had her heart broken and doesn’t know to deal, complete with freakouts, overcompensating, commiserating with friends, and mournfully looking through old pictures of the dreaded ex.
Much like another recent webseries, Dates Like This, the show is remarkable because of how remarkable it isn’t. Kelsey’s lesbian leading lady is not intended to be a spokesperson for all gay women, and she’s not here to make a political statement. She’s like any other woman who briefly loses her mind after a painful breakup.
Rauber credits this more typical rom-com setup as a reason for the show’s wide appeal. “The show has gotten a lot of attention from the lesbian community,” she says, “which is great, because I love that community! But I don’t think the show is exclusively gay at all. I think even straight guys can relate to how weird it is to date.”
When asked about comic influences, Rauber mentions feminist favorites Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as some of her idols for playing “strong female characters who are so flawed, yet so good at what they do, and don’t put men above their careers.” She describes Kelsey the Series as a cross between Girls and Friends – “except it’s not only about white people.” In fact, Kelsey the Series boasts a diverse group of actors, something that Rauber says was intentional. “I mean, this is New York City. We wanted a diverse cast, but we also wanted the best people for the roles, and it wound up working in our favor.”
This diverse group of friends (based on Rauber’s real-life friends) play minor roles in the first few episodes, but will have expanded storylines as the show continues. “Kelsey is obviously the main character, but we want the show to grow into more of an ensemble piece.”
While the first episode of Kelsey is refreshing in its traditional story about an nontraditional character, I’m told that we shouldn’t expect future episodes to follow a traditional romantic comedy format.
“What happens in a lot of romantic comedies is that [the writers] develop characters that, if it goes on too long, it becomes rather unbelievable. It’s not going to have your typical romantic comedy ending,” she adds, assuring me that there few, if any, off-again, on-again romances, and no love story will end with a climactic chase scene to the airport.
We do, however, get to meet the ex-girlfriend that broke Kelsey’s heart – though not as a cliffhanger to end the first season. Rauber doesn’t even consider the eventual appearance of Shane to be a major spoiler.
“New York City, especially the lesbian scene, is pretty small. You would think it’s bigger than it is, but it’s not.”
Kelsey the Series is airing on Blip TV. You can watch the first episode here: