If Kyle Humphrey had a fictional kindred spirit, chances are it would be Roseanne Conner — that working-class and often crass mom from the hit sitcom Roseanne. To wit, the Canadian co-creator of the new web series Coming In once dedicated an entire blog to her fashion sense.
“Roseanne was so real and unapologetically herself and captivating, and it wasn’t a family that you really saw on TV,” he says.
His latest project shares that same sense of originality and authenticity, though format-wise it’s a different beast. Coming In, about a gay man who wakes up one day to discover he’s straight, debuts Monday as 11 short clips on CBC Comedy’s website (cbc.ca/comedy).
Expectations are high. Humphrey and Coming In co-creator Graydon Sheppard — who’ve been dating for years — are also the guys behind Shit Girls Say, a Twitter parody account set up in 2011 that now boasts 1.88 million followers.
There’s also a companion book and a YouTube series featuring montages of Humphrey in drag spouting lines like “Could you do me a huge favour?”, “I had such a good sleep” and “Twinsies!” Episode 1, co-starring Juliette Lewis, has racked up more than 21 million views.
Coming In, however, has a full-blown narrative arc. It starts with Mitchell (Dylan Archambault), walking into a support group for gay men who are trying to be straight, and telling them of his plight. Subsequent episodes show him facing the challenges of coming out as a straight man.
“Shit Girls Say was the first thing that we had ever worked on together, so now five years later we’re in a much better position to work together. One of the biggest differences with Coming In is we just felt more competent as a team,” says Sheppard, who also directed the episodes.
“We started thinking about Coming In a couple years ago, just walking around Toronto one day, and the idea came to us. We thought it would just be a really funny way to tell the coming out story in a new way and make it more relatable to a wider audience.”
The final product is warm, well-developed and witty. There’s some swearing and skin — a bare bum, most notably — and the sensibility echoes Australian series Please Like Me, about a man who realizes he’s gay after being dumped by his girlfriend. That show aired on CBC-TV in Canada last year.
In fact, Coming In is — er — coming in at a time when LGBTQ characters are finding their footing on both TV and computer screens.
On conventional TV, shows like Empire (Fox), Modern Family (ABC), and Degrassi: Next Class (Family Channel), have gay lead characters, while streaming services boast acclaimed fare such as Orange is the New Black and Sense8 (both Netflix), as well as Transparent (Amazon Prime/Shomi).
What’s more, a recent report by GLAAD, the LGBTQ media advocacy organization, said the 2016-17 TV season has the highest percentage of LGBTQ main characters yet: 4.8 per cent in prime-time scripted broadcast TV, a record in the 21 years it has been tracking such numbers.
“There seems to be representations of younger people, and Glee had a lot of diverse and groundbreaking characters on that show. It’s going toward the positive, but I think not since Will & Grace has there been a totally gay show for the mainstream,” says Sheppard.
“The LGBT community is starting to understand that there’s division within the community as well. With our show, we’re trying to point out things that are happening in the queer community as well as the straight community.”
Coming In also has another advantage: brevity in a time when attention spans trade in 140 characters or fewer. Each episode is about three to six minutes, dialogue is pithy and plot points are straightforward.
“You can really get to the story quickly and move along quickly, but the disadvantage is that we don’t get to really explore all these ideas that we have — we just kind of touch on all these things,” says Humphrey.
Adds Sheppard: “We definitely want to see another season; we want to keep going with it. This is where (Mitchell’s), journey begins, really. He is now facing questions about masculinity and dating and finding a place in the straight world.”
For Humphrey, Coming In could even eventually morph into something along the lines of his beloved Roseanne.
“We’ve always seen it as a half-hour comedy,” he says, “and we’re hoping that this proves it as a concept so that we can make it into a more traditional fleshed-out show.”
Coming In starts streaming on CBC Comedy, Nov. 21