Blue is a show that streams online, but feels like it should just be on regular TV.
The series, which appears on the recently launched digital platform CTV Extend and the app CTV GO, features the kind of strong acting and quality writing that could fit well with CTV's regular televised programming. And that's exactly what writer and director Rodrigo Garcia was going for.
"We thought, well, even if you're working with low budget¬¬s and short forms, why can't the material be worthy enough that it can compete with other stuff," says Garcia, who created the series in 2012 with his business partner Jon Avnet.
Blue follows the double life of an upscale escort with a damaged past (Julia Stiles), who works as an accountant by day and tries to hide her evening activities from her 13-year-old math whiz son (Uriah Shelton).
The show combines drama and humour, putting the viewer into some awkward situations. For example, the opening sequence from the pilot features Blue trying to appear sexy to a client while repeatedly answering the phone to help her son with a complicated math problem. It's a juggling act for the single mother.
"We all think we know people of certain professions," says Garcia, discussing his lead character. "But things are not mutually exclusive. There's no reason why you can't be outstanding and very smart in areas of your life, and very damaged in others."
Garcia, the son of late author Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Love in the Time of Cholera), helmed the 2011 movie Albert Nobbs and has directed episodes of The Sopranos, Big Love and Six Feet Under. He initially created Blue for his digital channel WIGS, which was launched in May 2012 to provide an online home for original shows, short films and documentaries that all feature strong female characters.
After partnering with YouTube for two seasons, which led to WIGS becoming YouTube's number one channel for scripted drama, WIGS decided to bring several of its shows to Hulu in the U.S. though a partnership with Fox. And earlier this month, CTV acquired exclusive Canadian rights to all three seasons of Blue in Canada.
The newer episodes of Blue on Hulu and CTV Extend are longer, though — extending from under 10 minutes to 40 minutes and over — which was all part of the plan from the beginning.
"Back then, the idea was that shorter content worked better on the web," Garcia says, referencing the show's early days. "So we started off with these seven and eight-minute episodes, but we always thought, we're going to write these in a way so that eventually they can come together in a library of longer content."
In the new third season of Blue, now streaming online, Blue finds herself getting romantically close to a client (Eric Stoltz), while her son stumbles into a double life of his own as he tries to hide a life-changing secret from his mom. Blue also deals with the surprise visit of her free-spirited sister Lara (played by Stiles' real-life sister, Jane O'Hara), who arrives in town with her busker girlfriend Satya (Alexz Johnson).
If you tune into Season 3, the busker character might look familiar. In the mid-2000s, Alexz Johnson starred as the lead performer in the CTV show Instant Star, a fictionalized take on the American Idol phenomenon.
Johnson, who lives in Brooklyn but grew up in British Columbia, says that she embraces the streaming revolution, and that she doesn't even have cable anymore.
"That's what made me so excited about being a part of this," she says of Blue. "I was like, 'cool, it's a web-series?' But it's an award-winning, awesomely scripted web series by real writers who've written for real TV for years."
Johnson, who comes from a large family with six brothers, praises Garcia's knowledge of women — something Albert Nobbs star Glenn Close echoed when she called him "a man who understands the feminine side of life" in an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 2011.
"Being around a director that respects women and listens to women and writes specifically around women's struggles and triumphs…you feel like you can really open up on set," Johnson says. "And be ballsier than you usually would be."
She remembers one scene in particular that could have been awkward in the hands of another director.
"I had to walk around in my underwear, in front of the whole crew, and that's just not something that I do every day," she says with a laugh. "So, he just really sets the stage. There's humour, and it's light, and it's fun."
Garcia admits that he finds the differences between masculinity and femininity very interesting, and that he focuses on trying to take a delicate, genuine approach to women's issues.
"I'm always trying to be very careful to not seem like I'm a letch, that I'm doing a series about undressing women, or about sexy young girls who have lesbian girlfriends," he says. "I'm trying to see it like the character sees it, so hopefully that translates into the actors being comfortable."