If you haven’t been watching Awkward Embraces, you’ve been missing out on one of the best shows to come along in any medium. Yeah, you heard me. It’s that good, and that funny. Awkward Embraces tells the story of three friends—Jessica, Candis, and Lyndsey—and their dating misadventures. It’s a simple concept, but what makes the webseries special for me is the incredible chemistry between the three leads, the sharp writing, and the fact that the leads are all honest representations of modern, geeky women.
Beautiful with real bodies—not the anorexic "beauty” too often favored in Hollywood—Jessica, Candis, and Lyndsey are a joy to watch because they feel like real people.
Jessica feels like a real female geek, dropping Star Trek references as easily as she breathes; feeling the desperate need to explain why her Star Wars t-shirt is funny even when it’s clear the person she’s speaking to won’t get it, or care. Candis feels like any number of close friends I made in college, warm and bubbly one minute, sarcastic and totally calling you on your crap the next. Lyndsey is that friend in every group that people roll their eyes at, but secretly want to be; the brash one who gets up to all sorts of craziness and isn’t shy about telling you about it later. What every woman I’ve introduced to Awkward Embraces, geek or not, has said to me after watching is “Oh my God! This sounds like me and my friends!”
The Awkward Embraces Season 2 party at Celebrity Vault in Los Angeles gathered some of the creme de la geek: Alexis Cruz (Skaara in Stargate), Robin Thorsen (Clara of The Guild and a guest star on an upcoming episode of Awkward Embraces!), Michelle Rodriguez (Ana Lucia on Lost) who was guest-DJing that night, as well as the Awkward Embraces leads themselves: Jessica Mills, Candis Phlegm, and Lyndsey Doolan. The event, hosted by Comikaze, was also a benefit for the charity Gamers United, which provides comics and games to children’s hospitals. The place was packed with comics professionals, webseries creators, geek writers/hosts, and even a Slave Leia—all there to support a webseries that seems to have come from nowhere to being on its way to becoming a true geek phenomenon ala The Guild! When Awkward Embraces didn’t have enough funds to finish their second season, they started an IndieGoGo campaign to raise the $10,000 they need to complete it and exceeded their goal with plenty of time to spare. (The campaign ends this week if you’re interested in contributing.) Clearly, the show has passionate fans and supporters who don’t shy away from an awkward embrace.
I had the chance to speak with Candis Phlegm and Lyndsey Doolan in Los Angeles about their work, the show, what it’s like to be an L.A. transplant, and why their names are so weird...
Teresa Jusino: How did you get involved in Awkward Embraces?
Candis Phlegm: About a year ago, or more, Jessica wanted to do a comedy sketch series. We had a big meeting, and after the meeting I said “If this doesn’t work out, I think the three of us should do something.” So, Lyndsey threw out an idea that she had, Jessica had some ideas...so we walked away from that, nothing happened. Then, a few months later, Jessica [Mills, creator/star of AE] was like “I have this thing I wanna film, let’s do it!” And from there it just blew up and became Awkward Embraces.
It started as a short film, didn’t it?
Candis: Well, the donut episode, which is Episode 4, was the first thing we ever shot, and I think she originally wanted that to be a short film. Then Adam, our director who we’d never met, really liked it and said “You know, why don’t we just make this a whole series?”
Lyndsey: Because she was looking for a webseries to draw attention to a feature she’d written with a partner, they shot the trailer, and she wanted a webseries to keep people coming back to the site weekly to hopefully rev up more donations.
Well, clearly it worked, because I’ve been seeing Awkward Embraces everywhere! What is your reaction to the huge response?
Candis: I am floored. I was floored that we got money when we started fundraising. This is just amazing. I can never say I expected this. Like, it’s great that people love us. The support is really nice.
Lyndsey: Yeah, it was very...touching? I don’t get touched a lot, but... [laughs] And it was really like, oh man. I was just grateful that anyone, like, gives a shit, you know? It’s just so, so nice.
I asked Jessica this [in a separate interview] kind of as a joke, but I was like “Did you become friends with people who spell their names differently on purpose, or what?”
Lyndsey: What?! Who’s different?
Both of you!
Candis: See, like according to us we’ve lived with it our whole lives, so that’s the norm.
Lyndsey: I always thought the other way was the weird way, like “LindsAY” was the fancy way.
Candis: Well, I was named after Candace Bergen, and then my parents were just...different. But I like it. I’m glad that’s my name. I like that it’s Cand “is” instead of an “a.” But Kandace with a “K” is weird.
Oh yeah, that’s weirder.
Lyndsey: That’s like a stripper. [laughter]
One of the things I love about Awkward Embraces is the fact that the three of you are all beautiful, but are also normal-looking women....
Candis: What show were you watching?! [laughs]
Is that important to you?
Candis: That we’re beautiful? Yes. [laughter]
Candis: I love it, because I think it’s the kind of thing that I wish that I could see more on TV. It’s refreshing to not see someone on TV who’s basically flawless. It’s just real.
Lyndsey: I feel like I’ve always paid attention to those characters on TV and in film anyway, and you stand out because you don’t look like the other 87 people in your cast or whatever. It sticks out to me because I’m looking for it, but I don’t think audiences notice it as much as casting directors and directors might think. So if this helps at all? That’s great.
How would staying in Texas [where the three stars are from and met in college] have affected something like Awkward Embraces?
Candis: I personally don’t know that I would’ve attempted something like this outside of L.A.
Lyndsey: Yeah, I mean I don’t wanna…Austin’s a really up-and-coming city and there’s a lot happening there, but outside of Austin where I was at personally? I don’t think the resources are there as much. I mean, I know Jessica uses the internet a lot to get things out there, but because we’re in L.A, because you can run into anyone at any time in any place, and you never know how….
So much of the crew and people who’ve been helping us have just been fluke meetings or friends of a friend. It’s just that a majority of people are out here, so I guess it makes it easier.
Candis: And also, speaking of the crew, these people are actively working in the industry on big projects, so they know what they’re doing. I feel like there’s not a lot of that opportunity outside of L.A. or New York. You have better odds out here.
As you’re all pretty recent transplants to L.A. from Texas (all within the past 5 years), have you experienced any culture shocks since coming out to the West Coast? What’s different out here?
Lyndsey: The homosexuals. [laughter] They’re amazing.
Or, parking with the homosexuals!
Candis: You know, people in the south—not just Texas—they are a lot more cordial, not trying to be rude. In Texas you walk into a store and someone’ll be like, “Hey honey, perk up!” But here, nobody cares what you’re doing. Even if you’re a celebrity, you’re just another body taking up someone’s space. So, I feel like you’re really on your own out here. That was the hardest thing for me. I mean, I’m a private person. I keep to myself. But these people are like Olympic champions at ignoring people.
Lyndsey: I don’t know. I’ve always found that my experience with people has been directly related to, for the most part, how I am with them. Yes, people are friendlier in Texas, but I get a little annoyed when people are like, “Turn that frown upside down!” It’s like...what if my mom just died? You’d feel like a real dick wouldn’t you? Gimme a minute! [laughs] But I smile to people out here, and they’ll do the same back. I don’t know, I guess it wasn’t a huge transition. New York scares me! I was there for, like, a week and it was terrifying to me.
These talented ladies have a lot going on outside of their performances in Awkward Embraces. Candis is wearing her writing hat a lot these days, and has not only written three episodes of Awkward Embraces this season (which she was really modest about and almost forgot to tell me about during this interview!), but is working with a writing group on another webseries. Meanwhile, Lyndsey has been doing a lot of commercial work; and honestly, if she doesn’t make you want to shop at Target, I don’t know who can.
Check out Awkward Embraces, now in its second season! Season 1 as well as the current episodes of Season 2 are all available at their website! And if you’d like to help make Awkward Embraces even better, you can donate at their still-running IndieGoGo page here and get some sweet rewards, or donate on their website. Speaking as someone who’s tried producing a webseries before, I know how difficult it is, and how little (read: nothing) everyone is getting paid. If you want to keep quality work like this out there—out there, and not beholden to a studio that would likely change everything good about it—put your money where your browser is!
Teresa Jusino is two years older than Buffy Summers. Her “feminist brown person” take on pop culture has been featured on websites like ChinaShopMag.com, PinkRaygun.com, Newsarama, and PopMatters.com. Her fiction has appeared in the sci-fi literary magazine, Crossed Genres; she is the editor of Beginning of Line, the Caprica fan fiction site; and her essay “Why Joss is More Important Than His ‘Verse” is included in Whedonistas: A Celebration of the Worlds of Joss Whedon By the Women Who Love Them, which is on sale now wherever books are sold! Get Twitterpated with Teresa, or visit her at The Teresa Jusino Experience.