Has Canada finally produced a worthwhile web series? I Am Syd Stone proves a breakthrough for short form serial storytelling. Where many web series resemble efforts that simply lacked the budgets to make it to the big screen, I Am Syd Stone looks and feels like a film. Don’t mistake this comment for some “Twin Peaks: The Return is a movie” nonsense. I Am Syd Stone excites because it shows the potential for serial storytelling when artists use form to their advantage. Comprised of six episodes that range between twelve and eighteen minutes, the series forges outstanding emotional connections in record time. This is a provocative and sharply acted character study with a satisfying hook. Episodes of Syd’s story last for mere minutes, but linger much longer
I Am Syd Stone follows up on writer/director Denis Theriault’s short film of the same name. While one doesn’t need to have seen the short to follow the series, it probably helps. Treat it like a pilot.
Both works drop viewers into the life of former teen actor turned faded star Syd Stone (Travis Nelson). Taking place mostly in hotel rooms and the lobby bar, the show observes Syd struggle with celebrity and sexuality. Syd Stone continues the character’s challenge to come out. Being in the spotlight isn’t easy and being a gay actor risks being typecast. Alternatively, Syd knows that coming out could end his career.
Mad About Matt
This weight is a lot to handle. Theriault and Nelson deserve praise for getting audiences into Syd’s headspace so quickly. Syd broods in his hotel room between production days for his latest sub-par movie of the week. He binge drinks to help/fuel his loneliness. (His alcoholism’s gotten worse since the short.) Syd’s also dodging two women: his girlfriend and his agent. The latter fuels the series like a lingering presence as Syd flirts with a screenplay tailored just for him. He doesn’t want the part, and doesn’t say why. However, through the anxiety and agitation that Nelson breathes into his performance, it’s obvious that Syd fears the audience could see the character’s experience for his own.
Syd tests his desires, however, when he meets a dashing lawyer named Matt (Benjamin Charles Watson) in the lobby bar. This encounter is one of those instant connections. Sparks fly immediately, and Syd’s interest is palpably piqued by the fact that Matt doesn’t recognize him. Here’s a chance for anonymous experimentation. A shot/reverse shot ends the first episode with a gaze that makes our guy swoon.
The six episodes of I Am Syd Stone explore how the star navigates the pull of desire. The show finds a fascinating study in celebrity through Syd’s self-destructiveness. Moreover, Theriault and Nelson build the complexity of Syd’s situation with each episode, revealing the shell under which the actor has buried himself to survive. Syd’s predicament conveys the hell that arises when one essentially erases one’s life to survive. As audiences see in the end of the short film, Syd’s suppression of his sexuality betrays his happiness.
An Artist’s Platform
However, the series notices something the short lacks: Syd’s growing acknowledgement of his responsibility as an actor. Visibility is key to nurturing support for and acceptance of underrepresented audiences. An actor like Syd could use his platform to help the queer or questioning kids who need a role model. This realisation, coupled with his fear of being “outed” on terms not his own, lets I Am Syd Stone up the stakes with each episode. It’s an authentic portrait of the weight of self-acceptance and the release that comes with it.
Nelson, taking over the lead after Gharrett Patrick Paon played Syd in the short (Paon appears briefly here), is a revelation. This performance is richly intuitive and layered–with a stare that pierces right through the screen. However, it’s also finely attune to its digital form. Put another way, this performance is one for the small screen, not the big one. This means that Nelson conveys Syd’s heartache through subtle emotional turns and shifts in consciousness. He and Watson have wonderful chemistry and create a deep rapport that lets their characters’ relationship mature despite brief screentime. These characters’ feel deep, lived-in, and real.
Drawing upon his own experience as an actor navigating the same concerns with which Syd wrestles, Theriault’s work is a beautiful act of art imitating life. I Am Syd Stone gamely answer’s its protagonist question about the responsibility artists have with their platforms. By the series’ end, Syd isn’t the only artist realised anew.
The first two episodes of I Am Syd Stone are now playing on OutTV and debut on Inside Out’s digital platform April 23.