Angela Gulner stars and co-writes BINGE, a new comedy series about eating disorders. The pilot episode is out today and is inspired by Angela’s experiences as a bulimic woman. Angela and a team of creatives decided they wanted to tell these messy, brutal, honest stories about women and they didn’t want to wait for permission from any TV executives (although if any TV execs are reading this they are quite interested in talking to you about the show). So instead they have independently made a fantastic pilot for BINGE and they need you, their audience, to show you are here and that you want this content. You can check out the pilot below and if you want to see more, tell the BINGE team, tweet about it, like it and help get it out there!
I chatted to BINGE creator Angela Gulner about unlikeable female leads, privilege and comedy. I cannot tell you how many times I found myself saying “Yes! Yes! Yes!” during this interview. It’s a long ‘un, so you can binge and read it all in one go, savour it and read it bit by bit at your leisure or bookmark it for later. Just make sure you read it.
Kate Stone: What inspired you to write BINGE?
Angela Gulner: I suffered from an eating disorder on and off for 10 years. When I was 17, I accidently-on-purpose let a diet go too far, and ended up anorexic. I thought I was in control of it – despite hair loss, constant shivering, alarmingly low heart-rate, and casual deep depression – until my high school friends staged an intervention with me in the bathroom at one of our senior choir competitions (we were big nerds. Huge). I tried to get help, but I wasn’t ready to let the illness go. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about recovery, it’s that it’s straight-up impossible until you truly, deeply, and fully want it.
When I entered college, my anorexia morphed into bulimia, and that sneaky little bitch became my best friend until I was 27. I went to treatment twice. First at The Emily Program in Minnesota – and while the staff there were great, I was only 20, and again, wasn’t ready to let bulimia go. She was always in the back of my brain, like a hot, stubborn little Regina George. Things got progressively worse over the next seven years. I was bulimic all throughout my time in grad school, and for my first three years living in LA. Somewhere during that time, I added alcohol abuse into the mix.
I was a real disaster to behold.
In February 2013, I started drunk dialling eating disorder treatment facilities in the middle of the night – can a flag get any redder? After fighting on the phone with receptionist after receptionist, I finally agreed to go in for therapy at The Bella Vida, in Pasadena. Little did I realise, The Bella Vida wasn’t your ordinary therapist’s office. It was a Partial Hospitalisation treatment facility – six days a week, seven hours a day, for two-four months. Well, shit.
Four months later, I ‘graduated.’ I’m so grateful for my time there and am relieved to say I haven’t relapsed since. I honestly don’t even remember what I ate for breakfast today, and if you’ve ever struggled with an eating disorder, you know just how big a deal that is. I didn’t think there was a way to live without bulimia, and now I’m living it. I’m free.
All that suffering being said, there was so much about my time with bulimia that was goddamn hilarious. And I met some of the most intelligent, fascinating people in those Bella Vida group rooms. Their stories, our stories, are important and they are severely underrepresented in mainstream media. So often, eating disorders get a one episode feature in a family drama: little sister won’t eat, family worries, family talks, little sister cries, little sister agrees to eat again, eating disorder cured! That’s bullshit. There is so much diversity and nuance within the eating disorder community, and those stories need to be heard.
I hope BINGE can be a light into that world; into that gritty, ugly, messy, hilarious, and lonely, lonely world. My co-writer, the fabulous Yuri Baranovsky and I envision a season set half in the treatment facility and half in Angela’s outside life. While in treatment, we will meet and experience the variety of individuals who struggle with food disorders, and the series will blossom into an ensemble piece. My journey is only one story – I hope this show can be a platform for many more stories. And laughs. Always laughs.
KS: Absolutely. How did you get into comedy and writing?
AG: About the time I ‘graduated’ treatment, I started to get really fed up with the ‘industry. I had an MFA from one of the most prestigious acting programs in the world, worked my ass off constantly, was told I had talent and a great “look” (whatever that means), but I still couldn’t find representation to get me into audition rooms. I’m a doer, I can’t sit around and wait. So I started writing BINGE and I fell in love with writing.
Now with BINGE, and another feminist comedy project I’ve got in the cooker, I’ve also started producing. And for me, it feels so much better than waiting around to get ‘the call’. Because although I’m repped by a really great agency now, booking a role is like winning the lottery, and I can’t spend my life playing the slots.
As for comedy? Comedy heals. And I needed healing. I still do. We all do.
KS: When we first spoke about BINGE you mentioned your character was “unlikeable.” Why do you think we need to see more ‘unlikeable’ women in comedy?
AG: YES! We need to see more unlikeable women in comedy because we still function under the notion that women can be unlikeable and men can’t. I think that’s some bullshit. When was the last time a male protagonist (or an entire genre of content) was branded as unlikeable? Walter White? Badass genius. Tony Soprano? Sensitive and flawed. Tandy (Last Man on Earth)? Annoying, but such a big heart! The Workaholic dudes? Adorable fuck-ups. Even Negan! Freaking Negan (Walking Dead) has been described as cut-throat, even sexy, but never, ever, ever unlikeable.
That title is reserved for women.
What does ‘unlikeable’ even mean? Real. Messy. Complex. Self-interested. Sexual. Loud. Taking up space.
Sidenote: there’s a book about Hillary Clinton called Unlikeable. I haven’t read it, it might be brilliant, but the fact that it exists makes me crazy. If one more person tells me she lost the election because of likability I’m going to tear my fucking tits off.
I think ‘unlikeable’ has to do with women being unabashedly in the driver’s seat of their own stories and being allowed to crash the car a few goddamn times! Men have been crashing the cars and pissing on the seats of their stories since TV began, and there’s discomfort in giving women that same freedom. Also, most of the gatekeepers of the industry are (white) men. And while I love men, and know from first-hand experience that they can be amazing feminist advocates; they don’t quite understand the thirst for content in the same way women do. They’re not as viscerally aware of the need for this type of work as women are. White men haven’t ever had a lack of representation, so they can’t appreciate just how important that representation is.
For example, when was the last time you heard about a Male-Driven Comedy? Never. That’s not a thing. Because white male stories are the default setting. White men have had their experiences reflected back at them on screen since they were kids. So they don’t see the problem unless they are told to look at it. And some men are better at looking than others.
We ‘unlikeable’ women need to band together and keep pushing forward until our stories stop being ‘Women’s Stories’ and start being… well, just stories.
Having said that I think it is important to note that I am a white woman, and therefore inherently extremely privileged. The hunger for content I feel is a fraction of that I’m guessing WoC, gay, and trans artists feel. I’m trying my best to be aware of intersectionality, and of my privilege, but I fail at it every day. All I can do is fight for what I believe in, and the kind of heroes I want to see. I am always looking for creative partners with different experiences from my own – if that’s you, hit me up. We’re stronger together.
KS: BINGE seems to be part of an interesting zeitgeist with shows such as BBC 3’s Fleabag and Lena Dunham’s Girls also portraying young women characters as unlikeable and struggling. Do you think this reflects the current collective esteem of young women?
AG: Oh my God, yes! Building off what I said before, when women get the chance to be real on screen, we just want to be fucking REAL. Anal sex, pussy hair, cellulite and all. We want to scream WE ARE HERE! OUR EXPERIENCES MATTER! WE ARE NOT GOING AWAY! from the rooftops. We’re in the midst of a revolution, but we’re no dumb-dumbs. We all know how rare these opportunities are, so when we get them, we hit them full throttle. And guess what industry, viewers respond!
That’s why we decided to independently release BINGE. The Hollywood machine is slow, and there are so many hoops and hurdles to jump through. Yuri and I got tired of explaining why we knew our story had an audience, so we decided to go out and find that audience ourselves.
KS: We think BINGE is fantastic – tell us what your hopes are for the series!
AG: Yay! I’m so glad! That means the absolute world to me, and to our entire team. We hope to find our audience. And we hope our audience is as loud and excited as we are, and want to see more. We hope, through coverage like you’ve been so kind to give, and through ‘likes’ and shares and views and conversation — that the industry takes notice and help us make more.
We’re looking for collaborators with the funds to get this series made. And we’re willing to get creative about it. Shit, if FX sees this, loves it, and wants to make it tomorrow – oh hell yes, we’re in! But alternatively, if a few indie financiers, or smaller production companies, or passionate individuals willing dedicate time and talent take a liking and want to build this series with us, we’re game for that, too. This industry is changing so quickly and with the internet, the power is really in viewer clicks. Let’s get creative together, and get important stories made.
KS: And finally, who are your favourite funny women?
AG: The hardest question of them all, because there are so many!
Queens Lucille Ball and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Allison Janney. Maria Bamford. Judith Shelton. Natasha Leggaro. Nicole Byer. Kether Donohue and Aya Cash and Janet Varney from You’re the Worst. Sharon Horgan. Mindy Kaling. Issa Rae. Rachel Bloom. Uzo Aduba (who I saw perform live many times at the ART when I was a student and she absolutely blew me away, I’ll never forget it). Karen Kilgarif and Georgia Hardstark (SSDGM). Erin Gibson. Kimiko Glenn. My work wife Lindsay Stidham. My hilarious friends Jennifer Jones and Caitlin Arndt. And my badass co-stars in BINGE: Daniela Dilorio, Faith Imafidon, Gabby Maiden, and Kim Fitzgerald Starzyk.
And a million more I’m forgetting.
KS: That’s a great and very comprehensive list! Thank you!
Watch the BINGE pilot here!