There’s nothing particularly interesting about the building blocks of The Bitter End. It’s an online sitcom that follows the lives of a few urban twentysomethings as they deal with the identity crises, professional stagnation, awkward cohabitation, and sexual frustration endemic to life as an urban twentysomething. But The Bitter End is a perfect example of execution trumping concept. It’s a really funny show.
The series begins as Bernard (Daniel Beirne), a nebbishy aspiring novelist, welcomes his fresh-from-rehab older brother, Les (Brent Skagford) into his apartment for what we sense will be an extended stay. Bernard takes a liking to Eden (Vanessa Matsui), a coffee shop employee and working actress whose greatest achievement is a tampon ad in which she proclaims “Because it’s my life!” Bernard wants to be part of that life and it becomes clear in the first episode that his brother is going to make a habit of unintentionally hindering that quest.
The Bitter End is reminiscent of pre-DeVito Always Sunny, featuring an accidental ecstasy trip and a misguided effort to flirt with the gay teacher in an attempt to pass night school. Seinfeld-grade intersecting plot lines result in hilarious, if sometimes painful to watch, moments that separate The Bitter End from the slew of one-dimensional comedy series on the web.
It’s not all chuckles and cringes, though. The Bitter End generates just as many audible ‘aww’s as it does ‘haha’s. Bernard is nothing if not earnest and his courtship of Eden is sweet. And each time he takes a leap and falls on his face, we root him on until he gets up and does it all over again.
Written and produced by Beirne, Skagford, and Etan Muskat (who also directs), The Bitter End got its start as a weekly improv show at Montreal’s Theatre Ste. Catherine. The improv backgrounds of the series’ writers and lead actors is apparent. Even at its zaniest, the show maintains a natural vibe. Due to their tight shooting schedule, though, the dialogue is mostly scripted, one exception being a poem Bernard recites in episode two. The supporting characters are all well cast and expertly played, particularly Eden’s ex, Victor (Graham Cuthbertson) and Les’ barely-legal love interest, Ashley (Erin Agostino), whose chemistry with Skagford is hilarious magic.
It’s clear the show was produced on a modest budget. Muskat says the series received a small government grant, which the producers matched from their pockets. It’s also clear how important it was for the producers to create a show of a quality that resembles a TV sitcom. The lo-fi production values are apparent but never become distracting. Like many indie web series, the sound needs some work, but it’s otherwise solidly produced and makes use of an impressive number of locations.
Each of the season’s six episodes exceeds fifteen minutes, making it one of the lengthier shows on the web. Between distribution on Vimeo and YouTube, episodes average around 5,000 views as of publication. Muskat says there will definitely be a second season. In the mean time, the team is working on finding funding, leveraging their exposure in the Canadian press to pitch cable networks.
I binge-watched the first season of The Bitter End. All six episodes in one sitting. And what a delightful sitting it was! Reaching both the audience’s funny bones and heartstrings, The Bitter End is one of the best comedy series to debut in 2009. Season two cannot come soon enough.