Move Over 'Sex And The City,' Hello, 'Real Girls'

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A group of women who are close friends get together and regularly share intimate details about their dating lives, career ambitions and frustrations with everyday life. Although the concept sounds similar to the blockbuster movie and former television series "Sex and the City," the group is the focus of a new web series called "The Real Girls Guide to Everything Else." The show's stars - Nikki Brown, Robin Dalea, Reena Dutt and Carmen Elena Mitchell - talk about the online space they have created.

TONY COX, host:

I'm Tony Cox. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

It's Labor Day, a time for appreciating the last moments of summer. Maybe you're lounging by the pool, chilling at home or hanging out with your friends. If you're looking for new buddies to spend your television time with this holiday, we have some ladies to introduce you to. They're a group of four single women in the city. And they're not associated in any way with the summertime flick "Sex And The City 2." Well, not legally, anyway.

We're talking about the ladies of "The Real Girl's Guide to Everything Else." It's an online comedy series about a diverse - meaning colorful - circle of female friends in Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of Web series, "The Real Girl's Guide to Everything Else")

Ms. NIKKI BROWN (Actress): (As Vanna) So kind of like "Sex And the City" for brown girls.

Ms. REENA DUTT (Actress): (As Sydney) Women of color unite and shop.

Ms. BROWN: (As Vanna) and shop.

Ms. CARMEN ELENA MITCHELL (Actress): (As Angie) "Sex And the City" was not totally white, though. Jennifer Hudson?

Ms. DUTT: (As Sydney) Seriously? Token.

Ms. MITCHELL: (As Angie) I can be your token.

COX: "The Real Girls" are played by Nikki Brown, Robin Dalea, Reena Dutt and Carmen Elena Mitchell. I originally spoke with the real girls in May just as the film "Sex And the City 2" was coming out in theaters. The show is loosely patterned on the "Sex And the City" television series, full of romantic missteps, comic squabbles and sometimes racy banter.

But when I asked Carmen Elena Mitchell, who is both a star and the executive producer of "The Real Girls," whether she was inspired by "Sex And The City," her answer and her feelings were complicated.

Ms. MITCHELL: A kind of love/hate relationship with the series. On the one hand, I think the series was actually really well done and it was targeting a demographic that had sort of traditionally been overlooked, which was, you know, women in their 30s and 40s. And then I think when I saw the movie, what really struck me is that these women really didn't represent my friends and a lot of the people that I knew. It didn't represent women of color very much and it really didn't represent women who didn't have, you know, all this excess money to go out and buy $500 pairs of shoes.

And "Sex And the City" and that whole sort of genre of chick flicks and chick lit really only represented a very tiny part of women's experiences. And so I decided I wanted to write a series that was really for everybody else. Like, everybody who was not represented by the "Sex And The City" world of the wealthy, white fashionista.

COX: Well, you certainly did that. As a matter of fact, your character, I think that's Angie, if I'm not mistaken, is the only white woman in the group of friends. And as a writer, you've already mentioned that that was kind of a conscious decision to make the character white and kind of weird. Was that a part of it, too?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MITCHELL: She's a little ditzy. She is. She's a little clueless. She is the clueless white girl, you know. And but she's very sweet.

COX: Yeah, she is sweet. Now, the character that I would associate, in a way, most with Carrie Bradshaw, which is not to suggest that every character in your series is to be patterned after every character on that - on the movie. Though it would be you, Robin, playing the character of Rasha, the writer. She's a journalist who's having some trouble finding support for her latest project, which interestingly, is a look at the plight of women in Afghanistan. Now, in this clip that we're about to play, Rasha talks about what her agent wants to do instead.

(Soundbite of Web series, "The Real Girl's Guide to Everything Else")

Ms. ROBIN DALEA (Actress): (As Rasha) Okay, so I'm sitting there, and she tells me that the only way that they can keep me on is if I basically scrap the whole premise and instead write some kind of Middle Eastern dating novelette, you know, chick lit.

Ms. DUTT: (As Sydney) Chiclet, like the gum? (unintelligible)

Ms. DALEA: (As Rasha) No, chick literature. You know, those books with the pink covers and the bubbly font chapter headings where the main character is always looking for Mr. Right and maxing out her credit cards along the way?

Ms. BROWN: (As Vanna) Why?

Ms. DALEA: (As Rasha) She things it's this brilliant idea that there's this whole untapped market of Middle Eastern fashionistas out there.

COX: So, how important was it to you that your characters' professional aspirations were at least as important to the story as her romantic life?

Ms. DALEA: You know, that is one of the biggest parts of it for me in terms of the character. You know, that's her drive and her passion is to really expose the plights of women in Afghanistan and probably, you know, in other parts of the world as well. And of course the main obstacle is that her agent feels that that's not what people want to read about. They want to read about women who are, you know, looking for Mr. Right and care about fashion. And that is the exact opposite of Rasha.

So it's a great set up. And throwing her into those sort of fish-out-of-water situation where she needs to now explore a life that is not her own.

COX: The girly girl life, right? Which she knows nothing about. Seeing that character learn how to walk in high heel shoes was really very funny.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DALEA: Thank you.

COX: And she's also very different than the Carrie Bradshaw character in this regard. I'd like to get you to talk about that. She's gay. And are you concerned at all - were you - are you - that some people will pigeonhole this series "Real Girls" as a gay show because of that?

Ms. DALEA: I'm not concerned about it. What is great about this series is that it represents the underrepresented communities. And by that I mean most mainstream TV and film are for the most part Caucasian and straight. You know, we're getting some gay characters and some browner type folks, but what's exciting about "The Real Girl's Guide to Everything Else" is that we have a gay lead. And that it's not necessarily about her being gay. It's just part of who she is and that she's now thrown into a situation where she has to experience something different.

So it's both the LGBT community is represented as well as a lot of different ethnicities. And that to me was really exciting. So, no, I'm not concerned about the pigeonhole because we've had a lot of support from the gay community and the multiethnic community, if you will.

COX: Well, before we get to some of the browner members of the cast

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Let me come back to you for a second, Carmen, to ask you about this gay/lesbian thing, whether or not that was an issue for you in any way in terms of the creation of this.

Ms. MITCHELL: No, you know, it wasn't a conscious choice to create what many people now feel is a gay series. But when I wrote it, we were coming up towards the November elections in 2008. And so Prop 8 was on the ballot in California.

COX: The gay marriage bill.

Ms. MITCHELL: Yes, exactly, yeah. So it was an issue that was kind of on my mind. And when I was kind of trying to come up with the character of Rasha, I started with the premise of what's the opposite of Carrie Bradshaw? So she's not girly gay. She's gay. She's not interested in fashion and she's really ambitious and, you know, she's interested in changing the world in some way. So that became more and more a part of the storyline as I went on.

COX: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE with NPR News. I'm Tony Cox sitting in for Michel Martin. We are speaking with the stars of the Web series "The Real Girl's Guide to Everything Else." So let's talk to a couple of the other characters. Reena, I'd like to turn to you because you were a driving force in creating the series and your character is Sydney and I got to tell you, quite honestly, Reena, that it was hard to find a clip from your character that wasn't just a little obscene, you know what I'm saying?

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: How is this character different from those that you normally play?

Ms. DUTT: Well, I'm in actress in Los Angeles and generally whenever I go into auditions you can't avoid what you look like and I look like a very typically Indian-American girl. And consistently for auditions, what I go in for are Indian characters that have an accent. If they were originally written American, suddenly I walk into a casting office and it says, please do it with an accent and, you know, I was born in Jersey, I don't have an accent.

And so it was just really exciting to have Sydney written by Carmen 'cause she's exactly who I am. And, yeah, I talk about all sorts of things, especially dingle berries, so I, to be completely honest, it's me. It's Sydney, it's me.

COX: Is it really?

Ms. DUTT: Yes.

COX: Well, you know, for a lot of performers of color, there's pressure from the community to represent who you come from and to play positive roles that improve the image of your particular group. Have the people from the community that you are a part of - how have they responded to your role?

Ms. DUTT: Yeah. I, you know, I haven't gotten a lot of response from my own community. But the response I have had has been overwhelmingly supportive. ABCDlady recently interviewed me and also another magazine called Turtlist Media, and they both cover Asian-Americans, or South Asian-Americans in the media.

And I found myself that one of the primary reasons I love the series is it normalizes diversity of all kinds. And so I am really excited to say that the community that has responded to the series has been extremely supportive of the idea of normalizing diversity. They were really excited that it's an Indian-American character who has non-traditional career choices, a non-traditional group of friends. The response has been great. And it's really good to see in general.

COX: Well, you know, Nikki talking about, you know, diversity, you're the African-American member of this cast, and you play Vanna. And of the four friends, she's kind of, you know, the leader. She's setting the tone, in a sense. And in the scene we're about to hear, Vanna is helping Rasha shop for shoes. Part of research to help her write her chick lit novel. Here's that scene.

(Soundbite of Web series, "The Real Girl's Guide to Everything Else")

Ms. BROWN: (As Vanna) All right, those would be perfect with a pair of booty shorts.

Ms. DALEA: (As Rasha) Booty shorts? Heels and shorts?

Ms. BROWN: (As Vanna) Um, where have you been?

Ms. DALEA: (As Rasha) Look, I refuse to wear something I can't even walk in.

Ms. BROWN: (As Vanna) Don't be such a lesbian.

Ms. DALEA: (As Rasha) It's not a lesbian thing. Heels shorten your tendons, destroy your back and make it impossible to run. They're a modern form of Chinese foot binding.

Ms. BROWN: (As Vanna) On the other hand, they make your (beep) stick out. Hotness.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Tell me how you approached your character.

Ms. BROWN: Well, she's a little bit of me, actually. I definitely love fashion. I really liked the fact that she is just a woman. She has these friends. She's not, you know, like, it's not focused on my race, per say. So I just went in, I dove in and just - I love the character so I just really welcomed it and embraced it.

COX: Well, you certainly did. And it was, I suppose I'll ask you and I'll ask Carmen the same question. I suppose it was no accident that you guys sort of poked a little fun at Jennifer Hudson's role in "Sex And The City" being an African-American sidekick who was sort of in and out and not really a main part of the storyline like you are here.

Ms. BROWN: Yes. Yes. And, again, like I said, it's very refreshing to just, you know, be there and have friends, as opposed to quote, unquote, being the token. You know, in my life, as Nikki, I have friends of all nationalities and you don't often see that every day on TV where you see a mixture of people, of women just coming together to, you know, fellowship. And so it's really nice to see that and to be a part of it.

COX: Carmen, let me ask you this: As a man watching it, I often look for how women who write presumably for themselves, how they put us in the characters that we end up in their work. And I felt that way also as I was watching this with some of the men. You know, the dating scene, things which were pretty interesting. Is that, I don't want to call it an issue, but how do you deal with the writing of a series like this where it's not about men, but men are in there, so to speak?

Ms. MITCHELL: I think that, you know, these are all kind of characters. If you do a lot of online dating you end up going out with people who, you know, like, after the date they could be defined by one little aspect, which is kind of what I did. I tried to, with the character of - and I'll call him, quote, "Big," 'cause he sort of parallels the Big character in "Sex And The City." I tried to show a sort of a more rounded character. So not every single male character was just two dimensional.

(Soundbite of Web series, "The Real Girl's Guide to Everything Else")

Unidentified Man: Rasha, you have taught me that a woman can be more than just a color coordinated corsage to pin on a lapel. And that I am more than just a credit card with an insanely high credit limit. I want to stay here with you and Habib and make a life in an Afghan cave and raise up rude half-Lebanese, half-Gypsy, or half-white Anglo-Saxon Protestant freedom fighter babies.

COX: It was interesting to see that, particularly with the scenes in Afghanistan when Robin's character ended up there.

Carmen, right now the first season of the show is available online and we're going to be having a link on our Web site so people can, you know, go to it and check it out.

But what can your fans expect - when, actually, can they expect more episodes. And can you give us a sneak peek at what's coming next?

Ms. MITCHELL: Sure. So we are planning on shooting season two, which is going to be a 10 episode season, probably starting September or October of this year. In terms of a sneak peek, all I can say is that there are going to be musical numbers and maybe some dogs.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BROWN: We have to represent everybody.

Ms. MITCHELL: We're going to tackle the marriage equality issue head on this time. And let's see, what else is fun?

COX: You know, one thing that you don't have - I want to ask you if you're going to - that the "Sex And The City" series does have in it is a child.

Ms. MITCHELL: You know, that may be down the road. For right now we have a puppy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MITCHELL: Does that count?

COX: I suppose so.

Ms. MITCHELL: It's like a starter child, really.

COX: It sounds like it's been a great fun for all of you working together. It sounds like you really get along and enjoy and respect and honor each other's ability and craft and that sort of comes through on the screen, I think.

Ms. MITCHELL: Thank you. Yeah, I agree. I love working with these women. It's been an absolute joy on set, like, you know, even - we hang out, like, outside of this, so I really enjoy working with everybody.

COX: I don't know how difficult it is, and our time is running really short, but I will ask you this, how difficult is it to put together a series for online versus trying to put something together for a standard broadcast production?

Ms. MITCHELL: Online it can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. Most of the stuff that you're going to see online is self-produced. So it's a matter of how much money you can raise and that kind of thing and what kind of production values you want to put into it. We made a choice to kind of go high production values with this because we really wanted to get our story out there.

COX: How do you pay for it?

Ms. MITCHELL: We fundraise. I mean, and we also call in a lot of favors. You know, most people who worked on it, on season one, were volunteers. You know, through our work as actors and writers and directors in L.A., we've kind of accumulated a great group of really talented professionals who were really interested in this story.

COX: Well, you did a great job. And good luck to you with it.

Ms. MITCHELL: Thank you.

COX: I'd be interested to see what happens when this series comes around for season number two and then maybe season number three and who knows how far along you will go.

Ms. MITCHELL: Real girls forever.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Ever. Actors Nikki Brown, Robin Dalea and Reena Dutt are stars of the Web series "The Real Girl's Guide to Everything Else." Carmen Elena Mitchell is the executive producer and also one of the stars. All four of them joined us at our studios at NPR West in Culver City. Thank you very much for coming on. It was a delight to talk to you.

Ms. DALEA: Thank you.

Ms. DUTT: Thank you so much.

Ms. BROWN: Thank you so much, Tony.

Ms. MITCHELL: Thank you for having us.

COX: Since our original broadcast, there's been more news about "The Real Girl's Guide to Everything Else." It has won the Audience Choice Award from the HollyShorts Film Festival and actress Robin Dalea was also recognized at the L.A. Web Festival as the best lead actress in a comedy.

But we've also heard that instead of filming the second season now, the ladies are planning to get started in early 2011. For more information about the "The Real Girl's Guide to Everything Else," just go to our Web site, the TELL ME MORE page of NPR.org.

(Soundbite of "The Real Girl's Guide to Everything Else" theme song)

COX: And that's our program for today. I'm Tony Cox and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Happy Labor Day, and let's talk more tomorrow.

(Soundbite of "The Real Girl's Guide to Everything Else" theme song)

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