Who knew the most traditional-feeling romantic comedy this fall might show up on YouTube?
It's not that YouTube hasn't been making strides in original content; they've been pushing forward in that area for some time. But now that they've established YouTube Red, their premium streaming service, they seem to be getting a little bit more serious and direct about competing for a broader range of viewers with straight-up television, both on broadcast and cable and on services like Netflix and Amazon.
Take, for instance, Single By 30, their new romantic comedy series (they say "romantic dramedy," but it doesn't seem to have any more drama than most romcoms) from Wong Fu Productions, a successful outfit that currently has more than 2.7 million subscribers to its channel. The show stars Harry Shum, Jr. and Kina Grannis as Peter and Joanna, high school best friends who vow that if they're still single at 30, they'll marry each other — the kind of gimmick that has driven romantic comedies since time immemorial. They meet up again on his 30th birthday, and when they realize that hers is five months away, they decide that as friends, they'll work to make sure that by the time she turns 30, they're not single so they don't have to get married.
As you might imagine, Single By 30 has a very different picture of dating life from the one you might have seen in older romantic comedies — a world of apps, swipes, and trolling thinly veiled Crossfit gyms trying to meet people — but what's remarkable about Single By 30 is how familiar the beats are. You have two people who are officially friends, one a little more potentially interested in dating than the other. You have despair over how awful bars are (and sometimes how awful apps are), you have sidekicks who are more cynical about love than the leads, you have bad timing in which one person's interest rises at the same time the other begins to give up — and that's all in the first two half-hour episodes that are available now. (There will eventually be eight.)
If you focus on the buzzwords and the pop culture references, it's easy to think of this as a millennial show that's very ... millennial-ish, but it also hit a bit of a sweet spot for me as a person who treasures both great and less great '90s romcoms. Don't get me wrong: there are definitely some clunkers in the dialogue, and Joanna as a character feels more fully realized more quickly than Peter does, though they're both in focus by the end of the second installment. Both his wingman Mark (Eric Ochoa) and her noisiest friend Chloe (played by Hillary Anne Matthews) are types, yes, but ... they both made me laugh. The scenes where loud bars are horrible are pretty good scenes about how horrible loud bars are. (I enjoyed a sequence in which Chloe takes all the air out of Mark's inflated dating profile: "Swipe left for holding up two bottles of Dom by your face in a club. No.")
It's not the most artistically ambitious thing television will produce this year, to be sure, but broadcast and cable and streaming outlets have been pretty stingy with romantic comedy for several years now, particularly if you don't count shows that find their purpose in dark (dark dark) humor. When you throw in how rare it's been for diverse casts and Asian-American leading men in particular to find spots in widely released romantic comedies, it's a solidly refreshing confection, even if the only thing you've ever swiped while in a state of cold-blooded panic is a credit card.
The first episode of Single By 30 is currently available free. Further episodes are available with a YouTube Red subscription.