How to deal with those landmark birthdays? You know the ones, finishing in zero and acting as a frightening comparative yardstick that illuminates your failure as an adult to the world. By 30 Edison had invented the phonograph, and a couple of years later, the light bulb. You get smug when you have a pretty good week at fantasy football.
“When I turned 40 I was a bit terrified—like— “the world is ending now that I am careening into middle age.” HOLY FUCK,” filmmaker Alicia J. Rose told the Daily Dot via email. “So I threw down and had a crazy big hurrah party, down to the coke on the boobs and Wonder Woman popping out of a giant cake. And 40 is not what I thought it would be. It’s BETTER.”
Not that Rose had to worry, mind you, about falling off that precipice into 40-something irrelevance and deterioration; she does stuff that you never will. Like collaborating with Petra Haden to make albums—she’s an accordionist—and directing “a ton” of music videos for subjects like indie godhead Bob Mould, Cake, and Laura Gibson—the last of which was shot at a “real haunted hotel with a huge 200 degree hot spring.”
But the instinctive jolt that she felt as she approached her fifth decade hasn’t gone to waste. Rather she has used it as the starting point of her new webseries, The Benefits of Gusbandry. Dialing in on straight Jackie, played by former MADtv standout Brooke Totman and gay River (Kurt Conroyd) the series tracks the two as they feel the pressure to leave their youth behind and forge an intense, yet platonic, relationship; that of the “gusband” and “swife.” In the first episode, the friendship is cemented at a party modeled on the aforementioned shindig that Rose threw for herself—cake, boobs, and coke.
Jackie and River’s relationship is based upon Rose’s own friendships. Or more specifically, the bond that she shares with what she calls her “gusbands.”
“Gusband is a portmanteau of “gay” and “husband,” explained Rose, “It’s a term of honor for these important men in my life. Same with “swife” which is far less reductive than “fag hag” which EVERY SINGLE WOMAN I know who have gusbands would like to see decommissioned FOREVER. As “gusbands and swives” we are in committed relationships, though some of us can’t stop at just one gusband.”
She continues: “I’ve always been a bit of a mess in the dating world, and quite prone to picking the exact people I shouldn’t be with, resulting in thick scars from heartbreak and occasional half-hearted Tinder binges,” she said. “My gusbands give me the benefits of “husbandry”—stepping in gladly and most handsomely as my date for any number of social gatherings, to make me dinner, join me on vacation, rub my feet in the hot tub, bitch and moan about the day’s events. It’s fantastic.”
And she’s not lying about the vacation, recently travelling to Thailand and Cambodia with her “primary gusband,” Lago, on what sounds a whole lot like the post-nuptial cavorting of a smitten, recently married couple. “It was the “honeymoon” both of us had always dreamed of but we took it together instead!” said Rose, “Sunset walks on the beach, countless couples massages, romantic dinners for two and occasional international Grinder [sic] dates for him while I binge-watched Downton Abbey by the hotel pool.”
The role that these gay men play—Rose credits them for being the “support system of my sanity”—and the nuances of their rapport with straight women is both the subject and cause of this series. “I think a lot of women and gay men have this relationship but there’s just not a lot out there media-wise to point to in reference. This is why I had to make this show,” she said. “Truthfully, I look it as lifelong romantic rehab. With my gusbands, I have created a safe emotional base to make my future romantic mistakes from. And they might not want to be with a woman in the carnal sense, but they happen to love strong women and have emotional space for that.”
Beyond the interest created by exploring the novelty of the leads’ relationship, perhaps the most striking component of the first episode is the soundtrack. It’s not something which should surprise considering the creator’s musical pedigree but the pursuit of an impressive musical palette and a thoughtful mix is often an afterthought in the world of the webseries.
In Gusbandry, however, the opening episode crackles thanks to the soundtrack Rose pulled together with her friend Erika Anderson (better known as indie rock hero EMA): with music from Portland bands (and Rose’s pals) Summer Cannibals and Bed, Princess Superstar, and original music by Anderson for when “John Hughes heartbreak vibes” were required.
If the pilot is to be trusted this will be must-stream TV—there are eight episodes in the first season, to be rolled out once a month. And expect a hopeful arc: In Gusbandry Jackie finds herself at a personal crossroad as her landmark birthday approaches; but despite her earlier fears it was a conundrum that Rose herself successfully navigated.
“I’m 45 now and I feel like I’m really just getting started,” she said. “I may have had good ideas at 20 and 30 but it’s only now that I’m capable of fully manifesting them and being strong enough to fight my way through the ruckus of this crazy business. I would tell anyone turning 40 to see it as a beginning of an era, not an end.”
Photo via The Benefits of Gusbandry