"I don’t normally do this — I mean, your origin story is ... Grindr," says Nate, the lanky, rebounding lead in director Brandon Kirby’s new web series I’m Fine. His scruffy hookup retorts, "Yeah, well, you were the one that hit me up first."
After a late night out with his best friend, Nate finds himself ready to turn the key to his West Hollywood apartment and retire; another night alone. But before he can walk through his door, his iPhone dings! and a string of graphic sexts appear. He reads them and considers his virtual sidewalk sale. A weighted sigh. Scene cut and Nate sits awkwardly on his hookup’s couch staring at the man’s cat.
"It’s not like I’m on there all the time. It’s not like I’m some fuckboy. I deleted it a long time ago," he says, clawing feverishly to maintain his pride. His unconvinced and unamused hookup swiftly goes down on him before Nate can mutter another hypocritical cliché.
Like many scenes in the series, the exchange is uncomfortable and difficult to watch yet neatly captures many relatable experiences gay men face — in this case, the awkward encounter of a hookup with a stranger.
"I’m Fine is shot in short vignettes," Kirby tells me as he buzzes along the streets of Hollywood. "They never felt narratively restrictive in any way being so short. The viewer can get in and get out and still walk away with these intense emotional beats."
The five- to 10-minute pocket episodes are each their own potent pill to swallow. In a remarkably short time, Kirby’s characters unfold and their drama quickly seizes your attention. The intrusion is brief but memorable, like witnessing a drunken disagreement between two passionate lovers by a taco truck on the rainbow-crossed asphalt of Santa Monica Boulevard.
"It’s all a conglomerate of what I’ve seen," Kirby tells me when I ask him about the sheer hypocrisy of Nate’s character, shaming Grindr users yet constantly online looking for friends. Apps "seem to be the nature of the game in modern dating," he says." It’s kind of what you have to do to date in West Hollywood."
Los Angeles-based director Brandon Kirby.
But regardless, shame is still closely associated with them. And as we see in Nate, the possibilities of apps quickly turns into addiction as the swells of FOMO constantly cry, "Your man could be on now, or now, or now, or now!"
Nate’s abandonment by his ex-boyfriend leads him not only into a stranger’s arm, but also to engage in risky sexual encounters once in them. Even though the character lives in West Hollywood, the signifier of hope for many marginalized gay men, he still suffers from the intense epidemic of gay loneliness, even though he’s surrounded by close gay friends and peers. During his hookup with the cat-owning man, Nate engages in unprotected sex. It is only after his hookup has entered him that the man asks, “Are you on PrEP?”
"I wanted to bring up PReP," Kirby tells me regarding the practice of taking a medication, Truvada, for HIV prevention. "I’m a big proponent of it and I think it is such a positive medication in our community." The web series is one of the first to have a discussion about the risk-reducing drug that is becoming ingrained in gay culture as it becomes more attainable for a majority of men.
Although the show portrays deeply complicated issues like loneliness, it does so with an outrageous and perverse humor. After ditching the man’s apartment to head home, Nate is followed out the door by his hookup who yells, “Really? Bareback and bail?”
Other characters, like Nate’s BFF, Jeff, display aggressive, confrontational behaviors so brazen, you can only but laugh at Nate’s inability to take ownership for his own miserable truths. But no matter how much is on Nate’s troubled mind, he finds it difficult to open up to his closest friends, and so he sweeps everything under the rug. He goes numb and says, “I’m fine.”
I’m Fine cast (left-right): Richard Stokes, Ulysses Morazan, Perry Powell, Lee Doud. (Photo: Andrew J. Ceperley)
Kirby says the name of the series came from "hearing the phrase repeated time and time again when people were clearly not fine. I started to parody the phrase with my friends saying it in this nasally, annoying tone." He mimics the phrase and laughs, "I bounced a lot of names around for the series, but when I decided on I’m Fine, it felt perfect."
While the web series does not offer any clear remedies for loneliness, it is a staggering conversation starter that accurately portrays the unglamorous side of West Hollywood, homing in on gay mental health and dating culture. It is the perfect counterweight to programs like Fire Island and What Happens at the Abbey.
The first four episodes of I’m Fine are currently airing on Dekkoo, a subscription-based streaming service carrying gay content exclusively. I’m Fine is its third original series, following Feral (a series about being gay in the Bible Belt) and Love Is Blind (a reality show following 14 men on blind dates.) The second half of the first season of I’m Fine premieres June 21.