When a family-owned business gets handed down from one generation to another, it’s doubly crucial for the business’ new caretakers to keep it “in the family” while keeping its profits “in the black”.
Yet when a young woman struggles to bring her late father’s treasured restaurant out of impending financial danger in the new comedy miniseries 86’d, she and her co-workers decide to rescue their establishment in the most ingenious (and highly illegal) way possible: by robbing the place themselves!
Created by and co-starring Alex Spieth ([Blank] My Life), directed by Benjamin Viertel and originally filmed in 2019, 86’d can be seen in New York City on the Brooklyn-based community cable channel BRIC TV and worldwide on BRIC’s YouTube platform (the latter of which is linked to at the conclusion of this article).
For those wondering about the meaning behind the show’s title, “86’d” is defined in restaurant terminology as being out of a particular menu item. As defined herein by Spieth, though, the term describes the act of disestablishing an under-performing restaurant.
Spieth leads a brilliant ensemble cast in 86’d as Monica, the beleaguered owner of her beloved dad’s diner and boss/confidant to its long-suffering staff: aspiring actor Oge (Yonatan Gebeyehu), stud bartender Omar (Jose Duran), Monica’s bestie/voice of reason Miri (Gabrielle McClinton), longtime family friend/busser Jorge (Louis Arcella) and Chris (Andrew Dahreddine), who’s determined to honor his dying mother by hooking up with the man of his dreams.
With the restaurant bleeding red ink, Monica gets the first of her many haunting visits from her deceased papa. Though such visits ultimately exist in her mind, the pressure is on Monica to do whatever it takes to prevent her dad’s restaurant from becoming a thing of the past.
By deciding to put on a delicately choreographed hold-up of their own eatery, Monica and her would-be conspirators put themselves and their freedom at risk, but will some unexpected new visitors to the diner change their fortunes?
Based primarily on Spieth’s many years working in the high-pressure world of fine dining in New York City, and filmed for five days in and around an actual bar – The Bluebird in Flatbush, Brooklyn – 86’d wasn’t initially touted to BRIC execs as the lighthearted comedy it eventually became. Yet as Spieth continuously developed the series’ conceptual qualities and story elements during the scripting phase, she found a way to make 86’d more easygoing in its touch.
“Initially my pitch was more (edgy) with elements around gun violence and gun control, but as I began to write and refine, I felt keeping the world more comedic and light was the right way to go. 86’d is like (the 1998 Irish comedy) Waking Ned Devine, where a community rallies together for the good of the whole (even though it means telling some lies along the way).” says Spieth. “The series works best when it’s very innocent and fun.”
Part of that innocence and fun lies in the show’s fantasy sequences, described by Spieth as adding “extreme magical realism” to 86’d.
“At the end of episode 1, when Monica gets the idea to stage a robbery, she has a vision of the perfect robbery, which utilizes a sequence which mimics the scenes in The Untouchables (credit to star director Benjamin Viertel). In episode 2, Monica narrates the way she envisions the robbery sequence happening which is part ballet/part Drunk History. Throughout the series, Monica is haunted by the ghosts of her long deceased ancestors who are played by the members of her current staff.”
The format of 86’d – an ensemble comedy set in a restaurant – stayed consistent. Yet while the characters Spieth created for the series would gradually come into their own on the page, the actors who’d eventually play them knew they’d have to achieve the clearly defined style of performances that Spieth envisioned in pre-production.
Despite not having previously worked with the rest of 86’d ’s company, Spieth found her early concerns about their ability to accomplish those performances substantially alleviated on the set. “In large part, I was relying on my actors cast to elevate the performances, and, boy, did they ever deliver.”
Though Duran, Gebeyehu, Arcella and McClinton proved to be the perfect choices for their roles (Omar, Oge, Jorge and Miri, respectively), it seemed all but impossible for Spieth and Viertel to find the actor who’d exude the unique qualities that Spieth created for the character of Chris. “We (Benjamin and I) went all over the map looking for the person who was going to be perfect for this role,” recalls Spieth. “It was the only role for which I sought a casting director’s help (shout-out to RJ Magee [New York-based casting director]).”
With only two weeks before production began on 86’d, Spieth and Viertel would finally find their Chris in an incredibly unexpected place.
“…Like magic, I worked a lunch shift (at the Westville Hudson restaurant in New York City), and saw the catering manager, Andrew Dahreddine, seated at the community table,” Spieth remembers. “I remembered he was an actor, and thought, ‘what the hell, let me see what he’s got.’ His read totally floored me, and Ben and I decided to cast him immediately. It’s a great lesson to look around you. The answer to your problems is probably sitting at the very restaurant you work in.”
Thanks to money provided by the show’s production budget, and Spieth’s dual talents for finding and securing great filming locations, 86’d shot its interior and exterior scenes at the Bluebird Bar in Flatbush, Brooklyn.
Sizable enough to accommodate its every production need, and assisted capably by the bar’s management, Spieth and her cast and crew enjoyed just about all of their experience working inside the Bluebird – except for one exasperating yet unavoidable part of it.
“The only huge downside (of shooting 86’d at the Bluebird Bar) was to get the amount of hours we needed, we had to wake up at 3 AM to start shooting at 4 AM,” Spieth comments.” While it totally was doable, I would not advise putting your team through that unless you can pay $1 million dollars to every individual. Literally, (I mean) 1 million dollars to everyone.” Post-production of 86’d wrapped in December 2019, just under three months before the worldwide COVID pandemic began.
Like Clerks, Superstore, The Office and other workplace-set comedies, 86’d is made for anyone who’s ever put in a hard day’s work at any business. Yet while the laughs in Spieth’s series are as potent as the suds served at its fledgling restaurant, the commitment that each character puts forth to each other is as evident as their commitment to the wacky way they hope to rescue their business is in each episode of 86’d.
“The series is about a group of misfits banding together for a greater cause and almost pulling it off,” says Spieth, describing the concept for 86’d. “The performances, writing, direction, and cinematography are so well rendered, and I hope any audience is able to laugh and find some glee in watching the group attempt to stage a hold-up.”
NOTE: Spieth says that 86’d is currently in the process of being closed-captioned.
Watch 86’d on BRIC’s YouTube channel:
The full series’ YouTube playlist is here: