Victoria writer Amy Sharp isn’t Black or Asian or Latin American or trans. She’s not blind or deaf and she doesn’t use a wheelchair to get around.
But she could still be considered an underrepresented artist. That’s because people like her—single, sex-positive, working-class women over 50—are so rarely depicted in all of their manifestations on TV. Nor are they commissioned nowadays to make shows about folks like that.
“We’re not all interested in just being nice grandmas,” Sharp tells Pancouver over Zoom from her home. “There is more to a woman at that age than that—and I would like to show that in a fun and a funny light.”
This is the impetus behind her new web-based series Alexine Cleans. It’s about a 51-year-old single mom of a son “hell bent on taking crazy-ass risks”.
The show doesn’t focus on the son; rather, it’s about how Alexine experiences the ups and downs of life with great humour. That’s despite her relatively low income and uncomfortably high body-mass index.
Powell River artist Brad Collins created animated sequences for the first episode, entitled “Slap of Reality”. It revolves around Alexine getting fired from her food and beverage job. To get by, Alexine then takes up cleaning houses and doing home-support work.
“My intention is to help people feel better about their life, whatever they’re going through,” Sharp states. “Because as this story goes on, it’s not all pretty. It gets messy.”
Sharp sends a message with humour
Early in the first episode, Alexine asks herself why she was canned.
“I wish it was for something cool, like making out with a towering, baby-faced line cook that always called me a sugar mama,” Alexine (voiced by Sharp) declares. “But it wasn’t. Opportunity missed.”
That’s followed by trenchant and often amusing observations about working in “F&B”.
Sharp based Alexine Cleans on her as-yet unpublished 93,000-word manuscript. Each of the 52 chapters runs for about 1,500 to 1,700 words, which means subsequent episodes will last for about 10 or 11 minutes.
The first episode demonstrates the strength of character of working-class women who revel in the hilarity of life and don’t take themselves too seriously. This is notwithstanding their considerable challenges.
“I just started writing because I had all of this stuff in my head,” Sharp says. “And you know, I’ve been through a lot of turmoil with my son. But it wasn’t all sad stuff and traumatic stuff, although there was plenty of that.”
Fortunately, her son is doing exceptionally well nowadays, thanks to his growing self-awareness.
“It’s so hard being a kid now because so much of it—I’m just going to say—is phones and everything that a phone gives you,” she says. “It’s so hard to try to regulate yourself with that because it’s like crack. It really is.”
Initially, Sharp didn’t plan on creating a TV show. Nor did she intend on giving Alexine any visual component. But she later realized that this might set her writing apart from the “one million other manuscripts by people who have never written anything else, either”.
Video: Watch the first episode of Alexine Cleans, entitled “Slap of Reality”.
Book evolves into a show
She recalled that the old Nancy Drew books included illustrated chapters. So, she asked Collins to come onboard with some images. She planned to include them in an ebook about Alexine.
“I really liked what he created, and I just felt that kind of gave her legs,” Sharp continues. “It gave her a visual presence, which we need nowadays.”
Once Sharp saw the artwork, she decided to start with a web episode. She enjoys voice work and had done some radio in the past—and now, she could insert Collins’s drawings into a video.
But there weren’t enough of them to fill 11 minutes. Fortunately, Sharp discovered the existence of motion graphic templates, a.k.a. mogrts, and used them to illustrate parts of the text. She also hired a videographer with the help of a Canada Media Fund grant.
“I had to do the big job, which is create a slide presentation and tell the videographer everything I want on the screen for that entire run time,” she reveals. “So that was a really mind-bending thing to do.”
Sharp’s happy with the results but she can’t afford to hire a videographer for the second episode. So, she’s shooting it herself and learning how to use Premiere video-editing software.
When asked who inspired her to go down this road, Sharp first replies how much she loves The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which is about a housewife who becomes a stand-up comic. Then she expresses admiration for Issa Rae, who started The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl as a live-action series on YouTube.
While Sharp’s show isn’t live action, it includes witty and realistic first-person narrative, just as Rae incorporated into her program.
“She just made her way through,” Sharp says, “and she also wasn’t seeing herself out there.”