In social psychology terms, groupthink – a situation in which members of a group don’t speak their minds for fear of alienation by the rest of the group (Thanks, Wikipedia!) – is typically a bad thing. It leads to the group irrationally reaching a conclusion that none of the individuals in the group are necessarily happy with.
But in web series terms, Groupthink is kinda fun.
Created by Goodnight Burbank veterans Angela Espinoza and Wendy Rosoff, Groupthink chronicles the day-to-day operations of the Groupthink Market Research Group, a firm that gathers consumer feedback through focus groups. The show’s main characters are Groupthink’s chief executive best friends, Cynthia (Espinoza) and Pilar (Rosoff), and an infomercial VO guy that bears a striking aural resemblance to Rod Roddy.
Groupthink episodes are short – about two to three minutes – and can be a bit hit-and-miss. The hits tend to be the episodes that focus on the well-written dialogue between Cynthia and Pilar, whereas the episodes that incorporate a focus group (only two so far) can get too silly and try to fit too much into the short time-frame. With only five episodes released, I’m confident that the team will soon learn what works best for them and begin to deliver a more consistent product. New episodes are released about once per month, with occasional Groupthink Glimpse mini-episodes released in between.
I caught up with Angela and Wendy to talk to them about the series just after they shot an episode about a product called the Sexy Mattress.
Tilzy.TV: Why would I want to buy the Sexy Mattress?
Wendy: For so many, many reasons, really.
Angela: Our characters are trying to land [as a client] Lou Fink, who is the mattress king of the Inland Empire, and he has a new line of mattresses coming out aimed at the urban market.
Tilzy.TV: Why did you think the focus group would be a good setting for a web sitcom?
Wendy: I thought that it was such a natural, rich environment for comedy because really there are so few situation that we find ourselves in that we’re in a group where we’re in completely different cultural, socioeconomic places, stuck with people, captive for a period of time. There’s the subway system, there’s being on an airplane, and there’s the focus group. It just forces really interesting dynamics to happen.
Angela: Because the participants are being asked to speak their minds, when normally you do anything but. In these rooms everybody just kinda bares all. I can’t believe it hasn’t been the setting for a comedy before.
Tilzy.TV: Have either of you actually participated in a focus group before?
Wendy (sounding a bit like the Kool-Aid Man): Oh yeah!
When I was in high school, my friends and I used to force ourselves into focus groups because it payed, like, 75 bucks per focus group. And that was great partying money for high schoolers. We were regulars. We’d do toothpaste, maxi pads, all sorts of different, crazy things just to get out hands on that 75 bucks… I still have stories of these focus groups that, to this day, crack me up.
Angela: I was on the other side of it. I transcribed for years, so I’ve got tapes of focus groups where I’m typing up what these people are saying. I had to type for an hour about one man talk for an hour about his Mercedes car door and how well it closed and how solid it felt.
Wendy: How “solid?”
Angela: Yes, like a bowel movement.
Tilzy.TV: So far you’ve had one episode focused around a product, the “Hydraball”, and today you were filming an episode about the “Sexy Mattress.” Where do ideas for these products come from?
Angela: There’s a wonderful catalog called Carol Wright. Another episode that’s coming up next is about the “Hair Umbrella.” We can’t call it the “Hair Umbrella,” we call it the “Hair Thing.” It was the first episode we ever wrote and we opened up the Carol Wright catalog, which is full of as-seen-on-TV products, and it looked just delicious. It’s this guy in an upside-down umbrella…
Wendy: And it’s meant for when you cut your hair at home, to catch the hair. It’s like a hairy dome– like instead of having a hairy shirt, you’re wearing a hairy dome. And he looked so happy and we thought:
Wendy and Angela (enthusiastically, in unison): There’s an episode!
Tilzy.TV: Did you buy any hair umbrellas for the episode?
Wendy and Angela (again in unison, this time sounding exactly like the Kool-Aid Man): Ohhhhh yeahhhhhh!
Angela: I’ve got hair umbrellas, I’ve got a snuggie, a deer head telephone.
Wendy: We were saying that Carol Wright gifts must have been like “The mother load!” when we ordered our eight Hair Umbrellas.
Tilzy.TV: What makes Groupthink special?
Wendy: The two main characters are women. It’s not a sorority show, it’s not T & A, it’s not a mommy show. It just about these two smart, savvy women who are best friends. It’s about their relationship and their perspective on the world. It has a strong female perspective but it’s not catering to the majority of what female-driven shows are.
Angela: Not to say we’re a [for] women-only show, but we’re one of the only female-driven shows where we’re not pregnant, getting married, or rushing a sorority.
Wendy: We’re a little bit ‘The Office’, a little bit ‘Thelma and Louise’.