Web Series Review: That’s My DJ

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That’s My DJ, a vibrant love letter to Toronto’s EDM scene, is a rather cryptic web series at first glance. Like a lot of indie productions, it mostly throws out conventional plot structure in favor of drifting from moment to moment, focusing on subtle performances and stylistic choices. Works like this are often divisive; some people find them brilliant while others complain about boredom and “nothing happening.” The line between depth and shallowness is very thin, not to mention entirely subjective a lot of the time. All this being said, TMDJ’s evolution in terms of skill and purpose is fascinating to see. I may not feel like I completely “get it,” but just trying to pick it apart is so much fun.

The show is written anthology-style, each section focusing on a different character within a web of musically inclined friends and coworkers. The first installment focuses on an up-and-coming DJ named Simon (A.K.A “Deadpixel”), while the second zeroes in on Meagan, a free-spirited event planner. The to-be-released third series will star her producer friend Sam. Individual chapters generally run anywhere from three to five minutes, which requires some economical storytelling in an eight-episode season. No pointless tarrying or narrative wheel spinning will be invited to this party.

Viewing Simon and Meagan’s stories back-to-back naturally leads to comparisons between the two – they’re structured similarly, with first episodes that are almost entirely shot in first person POV before pulling back to show us each protagonist so we can learn something about them. The respective arcs culminate in their characters experiencing a loss, but ultimately end on high notes that underline a core theme of “life goes on, and so should you.” While I like Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 2.53.06 PMboth, my personal opinion is that Meagan’s packs a stronger punch, which is very promising for TMDJ’s future: it’s only going uphill as it becomes more cohesive, believable, and beautiful.

There are a few things we learn about Simon right away in his early episodes. He’s a partier but not a slacker; he has career ambitions but his manager Kyle is, to quote another character, “kind of a dick.” His mom and her boyfriend are largely portrayed as clueless, annoying people who he doesn’t connect with at all. Things start looking up when a combination of Simon’s mixing talent and his distinctive DJ helmet make him a hit at a party, leading to prestigious gigs. Meagan, his crush, quickly befriends him, and they make a trio with local scene staple Cory.

What follows are many (many!) colorfully-lit dance sequences as the club music flows. I’ll be honest: I don’t know the first thing about EDM, and while I like listening to it fine, it’s not an emotionally gripping thing for me the way it clearly is for both the characters and their creators. In this respect, TMDJ is a rather niche project. There are no moments explaining the rave subculture to outsiders, or main players talking about what EDM means to them. YouScreen Shot 2016-07-11 at 2.54.32 PM respect the passion all of this made with, but you can’t quite get inside it if you’re not already in love with the topic it’s about. This is at once slightly frustrating and refreshingly naturalistic.

However, an attempt to inject some tension into the proceedings is where Simon’s storyline goes kind of sideways. He finds out that Meagan’s into Cory instead of him, throws a fit about her “f-cking with [his] head,” and storms off. It’s bizarre and irritating and sort of offensive, all things considered. Meagan is a sweet, supportive friend who owes him exactly nothing; Simon’s actions reek of the Friend Zone myth, where people with crushes think those crushes entitle them to a romantic relationship. Anyone who turns them down immediately becomes a villain selfishly not giving them their due. This is presented as a reasonable perspective in fiction all the time, constantly turning likable characters into self-absorbed jerks. It feels all kinds of wrong for this to be the emotional climax of Simon’s story.

Weirder still is the final scene, where Simon’s spirits are lifted by yet another cool gig, and Meagan shows up to support him (seemingly without his awareness). There is no pause where Meagan and Simon talk out their issues or reestablish a solid friendship. We don’t even have something as small as their eyes meeting across the crowd, symbolizing hope for future reconnection. It lacks much emotional continuity with their fight, leaving you with a sense of “well…that Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 2.55.41 PMhappened” as the credits roll.

This is TMDJ’s initial offering: full of promise, beautiful imagery, and intriguing ideas, but flawed in its attempts at drama, conflict, and a meaningful ending. Simon has a small cameo in season two’s first episode as the DJ at Meagan’s birthday party, so we can safely assume they worked things out, but it’s all very half-baked. I love many narratives that encourage a viewer to read into onscreen ambiguity and go for a close analysis in order to get the most rewarding experience, but Simon’s arc seems like it’s still in rough draft mode, littered with pieces that don’t quite gel together properly.

If this sounds harsh, never fear: season two has all the marks of producers, directors, and writers who have fully ironed out the kinks. It has greater immediacy, higher stakes, and is infinitely more propulsive in its portrayal of events. Simon largely having a good time full of success and only briefly experiencing disappointment over an unrequited crush is one thing; Meagan’s complicated, risky attraction to new DJ acquaintance Hannah is totally another.

Introduced through mutual pals, Meagan falls in immediate like, although (during an episode cleverly shot as her computer screen) some light Facebook stalking quickly reveals that Hannah has a boyfriend. Regardless, the two girls Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 8.57.50 PMimmediately click, becoming fast friends during a night of dancing and hanging out. The precise events developing their dynamic are low-key and often implied – we have one dreamy club scene continuing the tradition Simon’s season began, a snippet of a larger conversation with both characters talking personal stories from their lives, a wordless grocery store sequence informed entirely by beautiful lighting and music, and an almost-kiss capping things off. Still, you don’t feel cheated, or like you’re watching something unearned. Their mutual affection is authentically spontaneous; the actresses entirely persuade you that these are just two people who find joy in sharing their experiences, talking about career goals, and laughing at weird ex-stories together. And they also happen to find each other really, really attractive.

The story roller coasters up and down from there – first Meagan cools off after Hannah sends mixed signals re: the boyfriend issue, then Hannah breaks up with him and the two throw themselves headlong into a hedonistic relationship. There’s a lot that can be talked about here, but what most interests me is the way it falls apart. After a Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 3.02.09 PMgorgeously communicative montage depicting their time together, Hannah hits the brakes, telling Meagan that this is only a temporary fling to her. In the aftermath, we follow Meagan through the premiere of her event Home Brew. It’s genuinely one of my favorite episodes of the series, mostly for Emily Piggford’s performance. At different stages of the event, Meagan might be professional, uncomfortable, cheerful, distracted, irritated, mournful, or determined to look forward instead of back. The transitions between these feelings happen fluidly and organically, which results in an amazingly nuanced portrayal of a post-relationship comedown. After crying alone in a bathroom stall, Meagan replies to a friend’s “Are you okay?” with “No, but I will be,” and proceeds to dance the night away. It’s pretty much a flawless encapsulation of TMDJ’s interest in characters crashing from an emotional high, processing that pain, and still choosing to find joy in their community of passionate ravers. If I felt season one’s ending was a little flat and confusing, season two’s is where I thought “oh. I get it now.” When Meagan and Sam shriek about Home Brew earning them one hundred dollars, I feel caught up in their giddiness with them. That’s one of the best places to be as a viewer of anything.

So there you have it: That’s My DJ is funny, exciting, inventive, occasionally maddening, always beautiful, and heavily invested in the duality of heartbreak and optimism. Here’s to future stories within this contained fictional universe — may the artistic vision of its cast and crew continue to flourish.

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