Gleefully satirizing life in 21st century suburbia, while taking aim at the disturbing parts of society in President Trump’s America, is the new comedy/horror series ANYTOWN, USA. Created by and co-starring Darek Kowal, ANYTOWN, USA’s first season of 10 episodes is ready for viewers to feast upon by accessing its primary YouTube channel and web site (see links to both below).
ANYTOWN, USA focuses on the Fletchers, a multicultural family who confronts the bigotry of their neighbors in a most delicious way: by eating them. This cavalcade of cannibals includes dad/realtor Ryan (played by Kowal), his loyal wife Molly (Jin Park), eldest daughter Lacey (Rebecca Escobedo) and youngest son Jake (played by Jordan Bender). Together, the Fletchers work to take a bite (no pun intended) out of hatred, and to keep their family united by love.
Conceived in 2014, Kowal views ANYTOWN, USA as his own examination of how we’re all affected by different beliefs and cultures, and how one family endures despite the closed-minded views of their neighbors.
“Having a show about a group of outsiders, and showing how, despite their differences, they’re just a group of people who love each other and are trying to make a life in this crazy world, felt like a unique, yet universal story and a great outlet to say what I wanted to say about our society,” Kowal says.
As briefly referenced at the beginning of this story, comedy and horror are on equal footing in ANYTOWN, USA. While zombies continue to bring in the viewers and the bucks in Hollywood, Kowal centered his series around a different group of diabolical monsters. “My first instinct was to make the family zombies, but I thought that idea had been done to death (no pun intended) and thought cannibals would be more interesting,” he explains.
After much frustration with other projects, Kowal decided to revisit and refine his work on ANYTOWN, USA. “When I couldn’t crack a feature script I’d written about 20 drafts of, I did a retrospective of all my prior writing and ANYTOWN stuck out as so different from everything else, as far as tone,” replies Kowal. “It also seemed like the best material for short form, as I always feel like short form drama can come off a bit silly and overly serious if it’s not done properly.”
Before our current President unexpectedly rose to power, the conflicts between progressive liberals and far-right conservatives were already exploding in America. Those divisions, along with continued discrimination against minorities and immigrants, and the shocking growth of populist political leaders throughout the world, are among several topics that ANYTOWN, USA spotlights through a comedic lens.
“Every episode in Season 1 tackles a different subject from fascism, racism, religion, privacy, nepotism, income inequality, euthanasia, trigger warnings, student loans, and beyond,” Kowal says. “Obviously, my number one job as a writer is to entertain the audience, but job 1A as far as I’m concerned is to give people something to think about, to challenge their world views, and (to) make them see things through a perspective unlike their own.”
Suspicion and bigotry in middle class communities are also exposed in ANYTOWN, USA.
“…Just having this impossibly diverse family (the kids are biologically Ryan and Molly’s) and dropping them into the center of white America creates an unspoken tension, mystery, and uncomfortable feeling amongst the neighbors,” says Kowal. “I view suburbia as a cult and these cult members don’t want outsiders in their backyards.”
Exploitation of everyday Americans and their beliefs is another target of ANYTOWN, USA’s comedy. “I was especially disgusted with the way the two major political parties used minorities throughout the (2016 Presidential) primary; the Right to strike fear into white America, and the Left as ethnic hood ornaments,” Kowal adds. “So, in ANYTOWN, USA, we go right for the throat of that hypocrisy. We call out mainstream media for their attempts to corporatize progress, and (we) put the hypocrisy front and center.”
Part of that job is to give viewers of ANYTOWN, USA un-compromised humor that targets liberals and conservatives alike. “…Once you understand that your show has a voice, you have to immediately stop caring if you’re going to offend people,” adds Kowal. “Art is supposed to make people uncomfortable, and that includes both sides of the aisle, left and right. If I call out one side on their bullsh*t (pardon my language), and not the other, I’m not doing my job.”
While social issues have been presented through a humorous lens in many TV shows, web series and feature films, ANYTOWN, USA pulls no punches in its commentary on today’s volatile sociopolitical atmosphere. Kowal details how the show’s style of comedy delves into the consequences of that landscape, and how it reaches audiences who struggle to find acceptance in a complicated world.
“I truly believe ANYTOWN, USA has the guts that a lot of shows don’t,” Kowal responds. “We’re not afraid to go for it, if we think something’s funny or important, or not being said. We are a show for outsiders and outcasts everywhere, and we’re not afraid to make people’s flesh crawl. I also think our brand of humor is so rapid and relentless and takes no prisoners that it requires multiple viewings to catch everything.”
Filmed during the height of last year’s contentious Presidential election, ANYTOWN, USA’s portrayal of extreme far right politics is disturbingly prescient in 2017.
“We shot this series over the summer of 2016, a.k.a. primary season,” recalls Kowal. “In a weird, horrible way, we got out in front of the rise of fascism in America, and it’s added even more resonance to the material.”
The comical confrontations between the Fletchers and their prejudiced counterparts demonstrate ANYTOWN, USA’s fearless storytelling. “From the very first episode, we expose the audience to this ethnically diverse family of interesting characters, and then, wham! (We) drop a fascist right in the middle of everything,” Kowal adds.
While Kowal applauds Hollywood for presenting stories that reflect America’s diversity, he’s also concerned about the true intentions of those who’ve brought such stories to audiences. “Mainstream media is, first and foremost, a corporate decision, so rolling out a slate of shows that emphasizes diversity, to me, feels like a cheap cash-in on society taking a step forward. Don’t get me wrong, I think the more diversity, the better, but I don’t want to see minorities being used as pawns to gain viewership.”
Kowal perfectly filled the role of ANYTOWN, USA’s leading man, but the search for who’d play his family was harder than he anticipated. “Casting the show was definitely a challenge,” he remembers. “To be blunt, for the first month we were only getting white actors to apply. I had to find Rebecca Escobedo (who plays my daughter, Lacey) on Backstage.com and Jordan Bender (my son, Jake) on Casting Networks, and reach out to them personally.”
Once actress Jin Park joined the series, Kowal’s goal of putting together a diverse ensemble of actors for ANYTOWN, USA was accomplished.
“Jin Park (who plays my wife, Molly) applied literally two days before the actual audition, and luckily I had myself as the token white guy,” Kowal says. “From the very beginning, I was adamant about getting this diverse cast, so I was willing to wait as long as it took. Thankfully, we found our actors and everything came together.”
Produced on a $6,000 budget over 6 months, ANYTOWN, USA’s shoot demonstrated how teamwork can overcome every challenge. “When you have a cast of young working actors who also have day jobs, not to mention a 10 year old with an amazingly helpful mom, there’s a lot of schedule juggling and rescheduling and getting what you can when certain people are available, and keeping track of what you have to come back for next time.”
Perhaps the only real hiccup that occurred during ANYTOWN, USA’s filming took place on a special day. “…There was only one instance where we didn’t make our full day (my birthday, no less), which is a huge testament to the cast and crew for being prepared, professional, and willing to help out in every way,” Kowal replies. “I’ve been on productions where you have to drag people kicking and screaming just to do their jobs, and compared to that, filming ANYTOWN, USA was like six months on a cruise ship.”
Happily taking its place as an equal opportunity offender, ANYTOWN, USA’s biting style of comedy will definitely push the buttons of viewers left and right. Beneath it all, though, it’s a story about how one American family seeks to find acceptance and belonging in a country where our differences have become absurdly politicized.
“There are so many things in this world that are trying to control us,” Kowal explains. “Ryan’s big juggling act for the season will be how can he protect his family from the threats of the world without completely controlling their lives and becoming what he wants to protect them from. To the viewers, I’ll say this: enjoy the show, laugh your ass off, and go create something yourself. Life is too short to wonder what if.”
(NOTE: Regarding closed-captioning of ANYTOWN, USA, Kowal says: “We have the basic YouTube closed-captioning/subtitles (on each episode).”)
ON THE WEB: https://www.anytownusaseries.com/