The new web series #Hashtag follows the lives of young queer women in Chicago whose dating patterns and attractions are significantly affected by the technologies that they use and, at times, abuse. The drama takes place on the mobile devices of Liv and Skyler, two best friends played by #Hashtag writers Laura Zak and Caitlin Bergh, respectively. Big reveals, beginnings of breakups, and expressions of desire and rejection all unfold on tiny iPhone screens through selfies, Instagram likes and comments, and text messages returned or left hanging in that epic no-reply space. #Hashtag tells a dramatized story that’s about as far off from reality as Portland is from Portlandia — meaning it’s a fine line between fiction and reality.
Liv and Skyler traverse the world of relationships in Chicago’s queer lady neighborhood, Andersonville (where I also lived before relocating to LA). Liv’s dating life is quite active, yet she always appears dissatisfied. She mostly dates women she’s met through OKCupid, but in the midst of it all, she notices @MarleesMom, a middle-aged mother with young, artsy daughters who regularly comments on and likes most of her photos on Instagram. What could be the harm in interacting with her? Meanwhile, Skyler is bored and in a long-term relationship with Miriam (Amy Thompson), while pursuing her career as a stand-up comedian. Much of her source material comes from life.
As both women meander through their frustrating relationships, their reliance on technology increases. Rather than enjoy a moment being present with Miriam, who’s rarely seen with a phone in hand and is in some ways “old-fashioned,” Caitlin finds herself texting with another queer female comedian. Liv is out at a photo shoot with her new lady, Tash, but she’s busy watching her Instagram, transfixed by the mysterious comments that @MarleesMom keeps dropping. The constant buzzing and ringing of their phones at first appear to be mini-interruptions, but soon real life becomes an interruption of the virtual.
“Some of the actual plot points were such that they wouldn’t have even come about without the phone,” Zak told Hyperallergic. “A lot of the major narrative moments would be random in-person happenings that leave a little bit more of the coincidental, whereas I think when it moves into a technological realm, people can seek each other out in a more deliberate way.”
#Hashtag focuses on a queer lady relationships, asking questions like “why are lesbians always friends with their exes?” and poking fun at two-date U-Haul tendencies, while also tackling broader issues related to technology. Increasingly, the emotionally difficult moments of our lives take place on those mini-computers. Our feelings and decision making can be easily swayed by a misread text seen during a vulnerable moment or a selfie accidentally sent to the wrong recipient. Are relationships more complicated now, thanks to texts and social media, or are our selfies actually just the surface of the online selves that we’re creating?
In #Hashtag, Bergh and Zak touch on these issues by focusing on the ways people use Instagram and Twitter as social spaces for everyday interactions, akin to running into someone out in the neighborhood, rather than the performative approach many take to these platforms. “That’s the organic verso of meeting someone online — going on Tumblr, Instagram,” says Zak. “A lot of people don’t like dating sites because it feels too self-conscious. Whereas when you are meeting people randomly but online, it is organic.”
And none of this would have happened without #hashtags, the social-media buzzword that the series is named for. “That’s how the Marlee’s mom character found Liv,” says Zak. “She found #Andersonville, and then found Liv’s profile through that.” At the end of season 1, however, it’s a selfie that unleashes bigger questions.
#Hashtag makes TV shows like The L Word feel strangely antiquated. Just consider one of the latter show’s many epic breakups between characters Carmen (Sarah Shahi) and Shane (Kate Moennig), which has naturally become a series of humorous GIFs. If shot in 2014, would that same scene have happened through an aggressive text message, a selfie of Shane on a trip somewhere with a new fling, or a no-reply message? Emotions in the digital age erupt and disperse more quickly, but #relationshipsarestillcomplicated.
Season 1 of #Hashtag premiered on March 16 and continues through April, with a new episode released every Sunday on online.