If you’re looking for a high-quality web series that blends pitch-perfect drama with supernatural suspense, look no further than Smokebomb Entertainment’s Inhuman Condition.
Launched earlier this month on the company’s YouTube Channel, Kinda TV, the series focuses on Dr. Michelle Kessler (played by former Stargate: Atlantis star Torri Higginson) as a psychiatrist to the paranormal. Each episode features recurring sessions with Dr. Kessler’s patients whose afflictions run the gamut of the supernatural world (think zombies and werewolves) but are just as psychologically damaging as a regular “human” disorder.
Filmed in Toronto, the series was created and written by RJ Lackie (All 4 One), and is directed by Jared Pelletier (Omega, Call of Duty: Final Hour), with new episodes being posted every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 5:30 p.m. EST.
I chatted with co-star Clara Pasieka (Reign, Map to the Stars) and producer Steph Ouaknine about the show, the future of web series, and the struggle to feel human.
Tell us a little bit about the show and its first season. What can people expect?
STEPH: Our short pitch is “an empathetic therapist treats patients struggling to be human.” X-Men meets In Treatment. Imagine a slightly queerer, female Professor X dealing with these people with abilities or afflictions. We have Werewolves, Almost-Zombies, Untold Powers, as well as all the “human” aspects from all socially relevant sci-fi: themes of inclusion, systemic racism, prejudice and identity – big ideas and themes we can explore through a metaphorical, fantastical lens.
People can expect a lot of heated discussion – we are in therapy, after all – and a hell of a ride as the pace picks up and the danger heightens. We’re going to see our therapist Kessler struggle with boundaries, her prejudice, her instincts and how she can best use her status for good.
I read that this show has been trying to get support since 2014. What is the process like in developing and producing a web series? Why is something like the Independent Producers Fund (IPF) so important and vital for web series?
STEPH: Like TV, the digital process can be a long slog of production financing, and the easy part is actually making the show! The bulk of the work is outreach: making sure you introduce the series to as many potential fans as possible until it clicks with enough people for them to recommend it.
I’m glad we have a partner in the IPF; it’s given us nothing but support and creative freedom. We don’t take that support for granted, nor the new business models and experiments in scripted digital it’s led to. They’re unique, and we’re very lucky to have them in Canada.
What drew you to the project?
CLARA: There is a thing that sweeps over you and you feel like you click right in.
The series does an impressive job relating strange, monster-like occurrences to real-world issues and social dynamics. The struggle to feel human, or accepted, is universal. How much is that intentional?
STEPH: It’s so interesting to approach these issues through metaphors and a sci-fi lens. At the same time, the heart of the show remains as real and human as can be, ironically.
CLARA: Reminding each other we are all human is pretty much the continuous task of my whole career. RJ Lackie, the series creator, just built us a clean and beautiful frame to carry out that task. For my part, if we are tuned in to the world happening around us, it can infiltrate the worlds we create. Marginalization and the tensions associated have been continuous in the world, of course, but conversations happening now might make the series particularly relevant to some. RJ is one tuned-in man.
Clara, you get to play a zombie! And her name is also Clara! What’s that like?
CLARA: I’ve spent so much time thinking about who she is that what she is hasn’t been at the forefront of my mind, Most of the time, all I see is a young woman struggling to be human so much so that when it took the fans all of a second to start tweeting about the “zombie,” it took me a moment to clue in, “Oh, that’s me!”
As for playing a Clara, I love when people call me by my character name on set, so this was just convenient. I think it also saves production a lot of money on Sharpies because they can choose not to write the character and the actor name on all my stuff, so that’s probably the main reason why I was cast.
What are the key differences between working on a network show and a web series? What do you enjoy about a web series as opposed to doing a network show like Reign?
CLARA: What’s most important is what’s the same. Both Amy Dudley [her character on Reign] and Clara Walker are beautiful, deep, complex young women asking me to love them and hold them close. I came to work each day ready to do that with the same intensity working on both series. There is definitely a different relationship to collaboration and hierarchy on a smaller digital series like Inhuman Condition. The producers really went above and beyond to ensure our creative needs and not just logistic needs were met. They sent people into my dressing room to run lines with me whenever I wanted during shooting, or sit with me at the Shaftesbury/Smokebomb office and run lines the week before we went to camera. The attentiveness I experienced was amazingly weird.
Like your character on Inhuman Condition, you’re also an activist [Clara is a councillor at ACTRA Toronto and rumoured to be the youngest ever Vice President in ACTRA Toronto’s history]. What inspires and motivates you? Why is activism important to you?
CLARA: I do it because it works and because I can. I’ve come to assume if you fight hard enough for something, you will see gains. They won’t always be what you hoped, but even if the bill doesn’t pass this time, if you’ve voiced or acted, nothing will be static.
If you’re with amazing people, like I often am when I’m doing work with ACTRA, it’s easier to keep going. I am still the little girl who thought she could change the world, in fact, I’m quite certain that she can. Anyone can, it just might require shifting what change looks like for you and celebrating more often. Can we handle more celebrating? I think so.
What do you think the future looks like for web series? Right now, there’s the thinking of doing a web series that will be picked up for TV, but do you think it will eventually be the other way around?
STEPH: I think it already is, with larger budgets and even phone companies like AT&T diving headfirst into content. Go90 (Verizon) has recently ordered more than fifteen short-form series. We’ll always see a divide between indie and studio, but we’re moving towards niche-centric video-on-demand platforms, in my opinion – a bunch of smaller Netflix(es) for specific interests.
CLARA: I think the future looks bright for digital series in Canada. There are a host of independent creators using this platform to tell different types of stories, many in very innovative ways and many with audiences all over the world. It is a powerful thing that our stories are having this reach. While we’re talking about the future of digital content in Canada, what I will also say, is I’m cautiously quite hopeful about the depth of conversation the federal government is having with industry stakeholders around digital content and I hope a system that supports more amazing Canadian content on all screens comes out the winner here…as to whether digital content will become the top of the ladder one day? I’ll leave that to be decided.
What’s your favourite part about working on this show?
STEPH: Working with such a killer cast! They’re all incredible and each brought something different and unique to the project. Same goes for our crew and everyone else behind the scenes – it’s not every project that’s intensely personal, and this one’s extremely important to me.
Why should people watch the series?
CLARA: Because my co-stars are brilliant. And because more than anything, audiences long to see someone who looks or feels like them on screen….gay, bisexual, Black, First Nations, female, marginalized, lonely, scared, angry, overwhelmed, frustrated, depressed, anxious, lost…human. Because they want to remember we are all still figuring it out.
Will there be another season?
STEPH: We can hope! Perhaps someone will check it out after reading this article? 😉