When it comes to gender confusion in film and TV, stories tend to fit into two categories: the first is drag, a staple of slapstick comedy from Some Like it Hot to that terrible Amanda Byrnes movie. The others are stories about actual transsexual men and women tend to be the realm of drama, Boys Don’t Cry and Transamerica being the most famous examples.
A third catagory is explored in Zack16. Zack Johnson is a 16 year-old high school boy who wakes up one day with a serious gender identity problem. Not because of some wacky turn of events that force him into a dress, or because any existential realization. No, Zack simply wakes up with what he modestly describes as “girl parts”. And to make matters worse, it’s that time of the month.
Zack16 is a comedy for sure, but it’s surprisingly thoughtful and understated, considering it’s fantastic premise. Instead of emphasizing the shock value of the situation, the series treats Zack’s problem like only a slightly more unusual example of the sort of puberty problems everyone experiences. Zack narrates each episodes with a deadpan sense of humor and practically regarding the change, such as when he attempts to Google his problem and finds that “evidentially this has never happened to any other guy. Ever. So that’s great.”
Zack’s changes aren’t purely physical; while watching a romance movie with his sister, he suddenly comments in a typically teen-boy monotone, “Aw. He loves her.” The onset of PMS makes him snap at his confounded best friend, and getting his first period forces him to improvise when it comes to effective feminine products.
Or, in his case, are they masculine products? Such questions are at the crux of Zack’s dilemma. Does having girl parts make him any less of a man? It’s a heady question with real world implications , and the series deals with it with a light yet intelligent attitude, producing a unconventional gem of coming of age humor.
The official website is completely integrated within the world of the story, offering no cast or credits, but instead fully loaded with an in-character blog that fills in the gaps between episodes (not as well written as the series, unfortunately) a link to Zack’s twitterfeed, and interviews with Zack’s teachers, friends, and love interest. The team behind the show is kept a mystery, but the top-notch production values and casting suggests corporate backing, or at least some sort of studio support.
Whether Zack16 is the work of a team of talented indie filmmakers, an established production studio, or even a tampon company’s viral marketing team, nothing can take away from the intriguing concept and brilliant execution. By presenting the story of a kid in a situation literally NO one has even experienced, the show paradoxically offers a coming of age story with reference points for both sexes, and everyone in between.