Summary:

The independent web series Dating in the Middle Ages explores the difficulties of being a romance novelist with an unsatisfying love life. I don’t know much about what it’s like to be a romance novelist; fortunately, I have an in with someone who does.

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The independent web series Dating in the Middle Ages is one with a very clear audience thanks to its premise: The show tracks Samantha Collins (Devin Mills, who also wrote the series), a middle-aged woman aspiring to become a romance novelist and also, just maybe, have a successful romantic life. But, of course, life is never that easy, even if your life is a slightly exaggerated form of reality with plenty of original song-and-dance numbers.

While I’m well-qualified to judge the execution of the show, four episodes of which have already premiered, the romance novel element is something that’s a little beyond my depths. Fortunately, though, I happen to know a relative expert in the world of romance novels: my mother. Janet Miller, under her real name as well as a nom de plume, has written 16 novels, four novellas and a dozen or so short stories for a variety of publishers. She’s also no stranger to web series content, having watched series like Riese and Trenches in the past. So while home for the holidays, I asked her to watch it and tell me what she thought about the show — which, overall, she really liked.

Initially, Mom didn’t know that the show was fictional, assuming that like many romance writers in the online community do, Collins was using video to promote her work. However, once she did some Googling and found that “Samantha Collins” hadn’t published any novels, she realized the show’s true nature.

“Very good production values — it was strikingly professional,” she said when we sat down to discuss (I agree with that). “[Mills] is not the greatest actress in the world, but she’s not a bad actress either; she actually comes off as a romance writer who’s trying to date.”

Mom didn’t love the second installment of the show, entitled “Mr. Poo,” which chronicles Samantha’s blind date with a proctologist. “If that had been the first one I’d seen, I might not have watched any more,” she said. “I guess you can get lower than scatological humor, but it still wasn’t a good introduction to the series. The second one is much better.” She also questioned the realism of a romance novelist being part of a writer’s group with writers of other genres (as introduced in Episode 4), because of the many quirks of the romance novel genre — not to mention the stigma some people associate with it.

But Mom did enjoy the more experimental elements of the show, such as the fantasy sequences utilizing elaborate costumes and puppets and the original musical numbers which pepper the series. With the musical numbers, I felt that the show would jump to them too abruptly, but Mom disagreed. “That was part of the experience,” she argued, adding that one of the songs was catchy enough to get stuck in her head.

The thing, ultimately, that Mom found most believable was the fact that Samantha’s emotional life was affecting her ability to write. “That’s an example of how when your real life is so screwed up, you actually can’t get the distance that it takes to start making something up. A lot of people read books because they want to escape from humdrum versions of their life. Writing? It’s much more complicated, it’s much harder to do. That part probably rang the truest, the fact that she was struggling,” she said.

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