There is something oddly satisfying about this show. Perhaps my age, or the fact that I grew up in Bucks County Pennsylvania where the show is shot, or maybe it’s just the excellent production value, but I can’t put my finger on it because there’s a gap between what I thought it was and what it actually is. A serialized faux documentary about a 70s band called Gemini Rising, this web series is at once confounding and, at least aesthetically, uplifting.
Created and produced by Fugue Films (writer-director Gina Andreoli and her partner cinematographer and editor Chris Marston), Gemini Rising is made on a shoestring budget of about $2000 per episode, which though thoroughly possible when you break down what you’re seeing, seems a paltry sum for what is ultimately created. Between the spot-on editing, visual effects, wardrobe, make-up (I could go on and on), and save for one or two bad wigs, you’d swear this was created in the mid-seventies. Okay, maybe that’s a bit hyperbolic, but it’s pretty amazing what’s achieved here.
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The acting is excellent, from lead Righteous Jolly’s, Robbie to afro-sporting Antonio Addeo’s, Tubbs, to Stanley D. Jacobs brilliant turn as Bernie Breck, their manager, everyone brings the goods. There are a lot of actors in this and each one is great and working hard. It’s a testament to Andreoli’s direction that she can get these performances, even from background players as action takes place in the foreground. And as I mention it, I realize that’s part of what makes this show so good, the attention to detail, whether it’s the main action, background action, hair, make-up, you name it.
I think it’s also this attempt at verisimilitude that is what’s confounding me. Andreoli describes this as a drama/comedy and I have to agree. Barring a couple of instances, the humor is not from set-ups and pay-offs or pratfalls, per se, but from real(ish) situations. Or at least what would have been real to a quasi-successful band in the seventies. The other interesting thing here is that I actually care about the characters and on some level, emotionally connect with them. Again, maybe that’s my age…I was a kid in the seventies.
But, mind you, it’s not a complete lovefest. The earlier episodes are not as tight as I’d like them and the later episodes get a little long. There’s a happy medium to be had here, but they haven’t quite found it yet. The pilot episode feels a bit like a lark, not a one-off, but just a test of the concept as Robbie and his brother Richard, played by the consistently solid Charles Radcliffe convince smarmie, balking manager Bernie that they have a new sound and need more money to hire a new guitarist. In a muddled turn, Bernie seems to get stoned and tell the guys they can hire whomever they want. It’s a mildly funny webisode, but intriguing nonetheless.
Episode two, “Galaxy Twins Session” is a bit of a rambler as Robbie, for no apparent reason, hates the sound of the piano accompaniment. He eventually gets drunk, fights with his manager and misses a wedding. It’s long and expendable. Ep.3 is also a bit long, though not totally expendable due to some great moments as “world famous” photographer, Aleister Holt Pierce, brilliantly played by Gregory Nassif St. John, attempts to photograph the band. The whole thing devolves into a hilarious climax on the muddy shores of I’m assuming the Delaware River, with the boys wearing leopard skin loin cloths and Robbie losing his cool.
But, it’s the last three, progressively longer episodes where the show really finds it’s stride, as multiple storylines are expertly woven together, the characters become more realized and the tone of the series is truly established. Episode 4, parts 1 (above) and 2 take place during Thanksgiving and take us through a harrowing and hilarious bad acid trip with Robbie. And not for nothing, Robbie’s opening song, “Sandy”, is quite good – the guy actually has a voice. Episode 5 is my personal favorite, but I’ll let you take a look for yourself, I’m going to do all the work for you. I’ll just say that Jim Ludovici’s Svengali, The Unicorn, is a genius turn for the show and a great performance.
There are five episodes in all, with two more on the way. And I’m hoping that the series continues to grow aesthetically, but begins shrinking its duration. This show in some ways has raised the bar for on-line content considering the production value at such a low cost and the excellent cohesion of all aspects of the filmmaking. It will be interesting to see if the audience can sit with the slow-burn of the day-in-the-life documentary format, but if not, I am once again impressed with this burgeoning new media. It’s constantly and consistently advancing and Gemini Rising is just one more piece of evidence for my case…even if I am showing my age.