No matter the medium, teen dramas seem to aim for either pop fantasy or edgy realism, with little overlap. Gossip Girl‘s hypersexualized Dior-clad Manhattan adolescents, for example, belong to an entirely different universe than those of Canadian soap Degrassi: The Next Generation (which lives up to its tagline “Degrassi: It Goes There” with stories about cutting, abortion and date rape).
On that scale, indie series Love Pop Trash definitely falls more on the Degrassi side, with some profanity to spare. The first five episodes, which were initially uploaded to Vimeo before being acquired by Koldcast.tv, track more than 10 teenagers through a typical day hanging out at the mall in a series of brief, interconnected vignettes. The scenes are tightly written, the young cast comfortable and believable as teenagers. And while some of the characters verge on stereotype (blonde teens Britney and Whitney stand out as a little too “plastic,” while a flirtatious shop boy is one wrist-flip away from being deemed “faaaaabulous”), there’s a surprising complexity to the awkward Mellow and a fresh bluntness to best friends Miriam and Ani’s back-and-forth.
Although the drama is all small-scale, there’s no holding back in terms of content. In the first episode, a group of skater bois quote Scarface before huffing paint, while (ACK!) in episode three a video game store employee’s fantasy sequence depicts the mall as a first-person-shooter game (he is, of course, armed with a full imaginary artillery of guns and grenades).
Producer Saul Levitz, a self-professed fan of Degrassi and “all that stuff on [teen cable channel] the N,” said via phone that the choice to not self-censor was deliberate. “We didn’t have a sponsor on board from the beginning, and so I figured, let’s go all-out with it. It’s the plot and characters that make this a good show, so I don’t mind reigning it in if a sponsor were to get interested. But why censor yourself when you’re doing it on your own?”
Anyone who’s ever worked in indie production knows that shooting anything in a shopping mall is impossible without a budget, but Levitz was able to secure three days of production at a local Burbank, Cali., mall for $7,500, which, as he noted, “by most standards is really cheap. By working with independently owned shops to secure access to their stores, he was able to skip the red tape involved with shooting at a major chain like the Gap.
Levitz funded the pilot season with the help of commercial production company All Day Everyday Productions, which was looking to throw some money behind a web series, as well as a pretty crafty deal with Getty Images, for which he agreed to shoot some mall and shopping stock footage as part of the arrangement. By incorporating an additional half-day into the production schedule for the Getty shots, he was able to secure about 50 percent of the budget.
Teen drama is a hard genre to nail — do it right, and you not only win the demographic being depicted, but older audiences interested in looking back at adolescent days. Do it wrong, and you’re a canceled CW afterthought. But that’s not the case here: with its diverse cast of characters, Love Pop Trash nails the blase, too-cool attitude that the modern teen strives for these days, an attitude cultivated to mask the emotional mess inside.