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Peter and Joanna have a backup plan, one that will sound familiar to anyone who once thought 30 was “too old” to be alone back in high school.
The duo, played by Harry Shum Jr. and Kinna Grannis, pledge to marry each other if they haven’t settled down by 30. The new YouTube Red show, succinctly named Single by 30, imagines a reality where the two meet up years after making their promise and have to negotiate the possibility of making good on it.
“I’m pretty sure I did have that with somebody,” laughs YouTuber Eric Ochoa, who plays Peter’s best friend Mark, about the premise. “She was actually older; we totally told each other by the time we’re 30 let’s do it. She ended up marrying some other dude.”
In Peter and Johanna’s reality, they’re both single, but only one, Peter, has turned the big 3-0 as the series starts. Together, they navigate the waters of staying open to the possibility of love while waiting for Joanna to hit the mark.
The series comes from Wong Fu Productions, which has been making narrative content for YouTube since 2007.
“Our channel has always kind of been on YouTube’s radar,” said co-founder Philip Wang of the partnership with YouTube Red, which came after Wong Fu did a pilot with New Form Digital. “We’ve always been doing long form content on our own, with zero budget.”
Single by 30 marks the first time a Wong Fu Production was written by anyone other than the founders. The budget from YouTube allowed them to cultivate a true writer’s room, giving them to access points of view they’d never considered before.
“It was nice being a part of a system we weren’t really used to,” said co-founder Wesley Chan. Wang emphasized that the writers they encountered were excited to work for a digital show like theirs.
“When you have to write for a network it has to be a very basic kind of writing,” said Wang. “We were like, ‘No, let’s make it raw.’ The most touching thing we heard from the writers is we were giving them a chance to write in a way they couldn’t for TV. That blew my mind.”
Single by 30’s greatest strength is its realism, with characters who encounter situations that seem familiar—a college party when you’re too old to enjoy it, or the moment when a casual thing becomes serious—and dialogue that sounds like actual people, not metaphor-spouting poets.
“We wanted to make them sound real and relatable,” Wang said. “Sometimes on TV or movies, it doesn’t sound like how people talk. People want more realism nowadays.”
Single by 30 also succeeds in its effortless diversity. “The casting of Harry was deliberate,” Wang noted. “We feel so close to the character that we wanted to see ourselves, obviously. We want to be inclusive; we want to be honest of what this world looks like. There’s not just one token. This world is colorful. We wanted to celebrate that and show that. There are some episodes that will show the cultural side. I think that’s what America’s like; we have things about our culture that makes us unique, but when you’re friends you’re just friends.”
“This looks like more of how I live, not what’s on TV,” Chan continued. “The reason people are friends with each other is because of personalities. It doesn’t have anything to do with their ethnicities.”
Single by 30 debuts on YouTube Red on Aug. 24.
A former YouTube reporter for the Daily Dot, Rae Votta has more than a decade of experience in the digital and entertainment industries. Her work has appeared on AOL, Huffington Post, Out Magazine, Logo, VH1, Current TV, Billboard, and NYMag. She joined Netflix in 2016.