Over the past few decades, countless movies, TV and web series have portrayed close, strong and seemingly unbreakable friendships that somehow manage to withstand the ups and downs of life. Yet, virtually none have explored, in-depth, the devastating aftermath of an irreparably damaged friendship. The acclaimed, award-winning “dramedy” (comedy/drama) series EX-BEST does just that in heartfelt, humorous, and often heartbreaking fashion. (Note: Episode 1 of the series can be viewed at the embedded link located at the end of this article.)
Co-created by and co-starring Monica Hewes and Diana Gettinger, helmed by award-winning director/writer Barbara Stepansky and with its 13 episode first season now streaming on its official web site and Vimeo pages (see additional links below), EX-BEST focuses on the now-separate lives of two former best friends: Andrea (played by Gettinger) and Leanne (played by Hewes).
As Andrea struggles to recover from Leanne’s sudden decision to break away from her, she does her best to move forward with her boyfriend, Drew (Elimu Nelson). At the same time, Andrea tries to fill Leanne’s void by beginning a new friendship with Caitlyn (Kristin Slaysman), However, as she slowly drifts apart from Drew, Andrea begins to discover that she just might be better off on her own.
As for Leanne, she does her best to move on from Andrea by living her normal everyday life, and by playing the dating game. Just like Andrea found it difficult to start over, Leanne encounters the same personal and social problems after she decides to end their friendship. When her life is rocked by an unexpected event, Leanne soon realizes just how much better she and Andrea were when they were united as best friends. Whether Andrea feels the same way, though, remains to be seen.
Both very close friends in real life, as well as talented filmmakers and actors, Hewes and Gettinger created EX-BEST as a way to bring viewers a distinctively realistic and refreshing portrayal of female friendships, and the emotional impact of a shattered friendship on those involved. “A best friend is your other half. She’s the one who knows you better than yourself,” they explain. “When these friendships end, it’s heartbreaking and disillusioning in a way that romantic relationships aren’t.”
For Hewes and Gettinger, EX-BEST also gives them, through the characters they play, the chance to defy the all too common stereotypes of such relationships that viewers have become accustomed to over the years. “Unlike most female stereotypes, the two lead characters are multi-dimensional women, who are full of conflicting emotions and cannot be easily categorized.”
Hewes and Gettinger’s own real life friendship, plus their shared respect for, and appreciation of, each other, were among the biggest things that led them to create EX-BEST. “Without sounding trite, we inspired each other. We have such a mutual admiration for each other and realized that we couldn’t wait around for someone (to) help us,” they say. “We realized we needed to be proactive, not just with our careers, but with our desire to create content that we would like to see.”
As actors, both Hewes and Gettinger knew from experience just how unpredictable the entertainment industry can be. So too do many performers and filmmakers who’ve taken the initiative and created their own path to success through digital content without going past the big-budgeted Hollywood gatekeepers.
As they explain, EX-BEST was their chance to create a series that truly reflected not just the characters they play, but also the real lives of women today. It’s also a show that gives them the opportunity to display their talents to the industry.
“We chose to tell this story in a web series (format) because we wanted to work with short form, and we also felt that making a season of television would be more feasible and accessible if done in the digital space,” Hewes and Gettinger say. “We made the show a web series because we wanted Andrea and Leanne’s story to have a long life over the course of multiple seasons. We also hope the show highlights and brings interest to our writing, as we’ve got many more tales to tell.”
At the heart of EX-BEST is the show’s two main protagonists, Andrea and Leanne. In every episode, viewers experience both their public and private moments, the inner and outer struggles they face living now-separate lives, and the significant effects those struggles have on people they know and love.
Hewes and Gettinger explain that while the series does have its share of comedy, there’s also a bittersweet poignancy to the stories of its two core characters.
“Although there are many funny moments in EX-BEST, there is a truth and a sadness to the end of Andrea and Leanne’s friendship that, we hope, all audiences relate to,” they respond. “The series examines the power of friendships and how they shape us as individuals. When these bonds are broken, we’re left wondering what we did and who we are. The series also delves into how these complicated break-ups affect the people around us.”
Making EX-BEST even more effective is the show’s presentation of those times in life that can range from awkward to downright painful. “We also think the tone of our show is what sets it apart,” add Hewes and Gettinger. “We have always been intrigued by the moments in life that are the most uncomfortable. Whether you look back on them and laugh or cry, they are undoubtedly the most profound. We tried to reflect that feeling in EX-BEST.”
Along with co-starring and co-writing in each episode of EX-BEST, Hewes and Gettinger also took advantage of another benefit that came with creating their series; one that provided outstanding female talent a chance to contribute their skills behind the scenes. The talent and skill of EX-BEST’s production team contributed not just to a smooth and steady shoot, but also in the distinctive storytelling style exhibited throughout each episode, and in how Hewes and Gettinger approached their work on EX-BEST.
“Because we self-produced, we had the opportunity to choose our own crew,” they say. “In doing so, we were able to hire some incredibly talented individuals, many of whom happened to be female. We had a female director (Barbara Stepansky), D.P. (director of photography Aymae Sulick), gaffer, sound, script supervisor and producer.”
Given EX-BEST’s unique approach to its storyline and production aesthetic, the process of filming all 13 episodes of season 1 was, understandably, a grueling one. Thanks to the dedication and determination of the series’ cast and crew, what would otherwise have been a challenging shoot turned out to be a rewarding experience for all involved.
“We shot 53 pages in 10 days. To be time and cost efficient, we shot out locations much like a movie production,” recalls Hewes and Gettinger. “That said, despite the grueling schedule, there was an overall excitement and willingness to create and be a part of the project. It makes a big difference when everyone on set wants to be there. We were so fortunate to have such an extraordinary and talented crew.”
Thanks to its powerful, and refreshingly realistic portrayal of female relationships, EX-BEST has attracted a surprisingly wide range of fans, many of whom have been personally impacted by the same experiences in their own lives that Hewes and Gettinger’s characters endure in each episode. For both actors/producers, the reaction to their series, and how it’s touched the lives of its viewers, is truly remarkable.
“We hope the show will appeal to everyone, but the demographic will most likely be women 18-39. That said, we have had numerous women over the age of 60 who have responded positively, reaching out to us and saying it made them reflect and remember relationships from their past. Many men have also come forward, happy to be able to talk about their ex-best experiences as well.”
EX-BEST is not just another female-centered web series. It’s a show that, through its characters and storyline, gives viewers a realistic and honest look at how the end of a longtime friendship can dramatically change the lives of those on opposite ends of such a breakup – and how two women attempt to find themselves, while learning more about who they really are, as they try to make sense of their unexpected “new normal”.
Note: Regarding closed-captioning of EX-BEST, Hewes and Gettinger say: “Currently, it is not (closed-captioned), but it is something we are looking into.”
Episode 1 of EX-BEST can be viewed here:
ON THE WEB: http://www.ex-best.com