Your New Binge-Worthy Show: 'Binge'

Your New Binge-Worthy Show: ‘Binge’

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bingeYou heard it here first: Binge is the addictive new series you’ve been craving. Written and produced by comedian Angela Gulner, Binge is one part Californication and one part Orange Is The New Black. Smart, incisive and painfully funny, Binge follows pastry chef Angela as she contends with bulimia, outpatient treatment and—oh yeah—everyday, real life problems.

So Who is This Unlikable Lady?

Angela is young, promising and super fucked up. In the opening shot of the Binge pilot, we’re treated to a close-up of her mouth and nose, mashed onto the driver’s side window of her car. Her lips are decorated with white dabs of vomit, cake crumbs and dried drool. For a moment, it’s silent—then she wakes up and her mouth goes back to running the show. Angela eats, drinks, purges and humiliates herself over and over again. She rampages her way through the first episode, completely out of control.

After checking herself into an outpatient program—that part’s real, inspired by Gulner’s own experience getting into recovery—Angela goes into a final spiral that confirms that she has lost control of everything in her life. It’s hard not to sympathize, even when Angela is so gleefully unlikeable. In one scene, she paces around a cake she’s making for her best friend’s engagement party. She carefully shaves bite after bite of frosting off the cake, and her jealousy is tangible. Why not me? she seems to ask. Why is this working for everyone except me?

Reality Imitates Life

I spoke with Gulner over the phone, and she confirmed that this story is personal: she, too, faced those demons. In 2013, after hitting a wall with her eating disorder, she ended up in “a serene facility, with green walls, for eight hours a day.” When I asked how that daily transition felt, she said, “It was surreal, because I’d spend all day in that tranquil environment and then go home to my Hollywood apartment at night. The contrast between treatment and real life, where I had to, like, function was like two different worlds.”

The character she plays in Binge represents the worst aspects of her life struggling with an eating disorder. “I was an ideal patient, because I was so desperate for help. I was very respectful.” But by contrast, her character Angela isn’t, but that’s not really the point. She ends up getting better in spite of herself.

Eating Disorder, Interrupted

There’s a seed of redemption in Binge, but it won’t sprout until later in the series. Recovery is a key message for Gulner. “If I could send a message to my younger self, it would be: It can be different. There will be a day when 85% of your thoughts don’t revolve around food or eating. I don’t know if I’d have believed that message, but that’s what I would like to say.” The message she hopes to impart to viewers is that “you can create a different life for yourself.”

Gulner’s rock bottom was a hotel room in San Diego, where she was working on a four-week film shoot. She realized that although she finally had everything she dreamed of—a Hollywood acting career, makeup and wardrobe and a life doing what she loved—she couldn’t enjoy any of it. Her eating disorder was stealing her happiness. Now in recovery, she’s rediscovered her passion, and it shows in every scene.

Who’s This For?

Binge’s confrontational, unflinching humor will appeal to fans of Iliza Shlesinger, Sarah Silverman and Tig Notaro. If anything, the script—co-written by Gulner and Yuri Baranovsky—feels prescient. “She has a lot of anger about having to be a certain way,” said Gulner. “That’s a pressure that you see a lot in the industry, as well as in our culture. Women are just tired of it, and finally, there’s room to throw the middle finger up. It’s unapologetic.” Her character Angela pushes the boundaries of friendship, manners and common courtesy. She’s not a nice girl. She’s not even interested in being the fun one anymore. She’s sick and she knows it, and her pain galvanizes her to seek help. Music by B. Squid adds a nice emotional dimension to Angela’s downward spiral.

The storyline has some appealing layers that promise to pan out over the series’ planned three seasons. Angela checks into a new agey treatment center in Los Angeles and puts herself into the hands of Josh (played by Ryan Stanger), a therapist who’s grappling with a few demons of his own. “He’s a sex addict, which makes him a great foil for Angela,” said Gulner. “We expect women to struggle in a way that men are not allowed to. Men are supposed to put all of their energy out, and turn their pain inwards, which creates shame.” The script manages to be intelligent but not obnoxiously sensitive. This isn’t Girl, Interrupted; it’s smart, funny and sassy as hell.

However, Gulner isn’t necessarily out to tweak your whiskers. She’s a classically trained actress with a strong stage background in Shakespeare. She earned a Master’s in Acting at a little school you may have heard of called Harvard. Her thoughtful approach to Binge’s raunchy material adds depth to a subject that hasn’t been given the play it deserves. Angela, for better or worse, is a fully formed character. She resonates—she seems real. Nothing good will come of her impulsive, addict behavior, so make popcorn. This is gonna be good.

Binge is an independent production that can be watched on YouTube.  

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Foster Rudy is the author of "I've Never Done This Before," and has also written for The Washington Post, The New York Times, McSweeney's and The Rumpus.