Published May 15, 2020Bands, like friendships, become increasingly more difficult to maintain the further along in life one gets. Navigating priorities while managing a stressful career or the (seemingly involved) process of producing and caring for a tiny human have certainly been cited as the nail in the coffin of multiple music groups, but bands break up for even smaller conflicts all the time. Still, the longer I spend in communities of musicians, it seems that the people who appear to do this effortlessly are those who have been a part of the music community the longest.
With that in mind, forming a new band composed of several middle-aged women all in completely different places in their lives (that mostly aren't music-related) seems unlikely. These concerns are initially shared by the cast of Band Ladies, indie streaming service HighBallTV's newest comedy series, which premiered on Wednesday. As the members of a romance novel book club are pushed towards forming a punk band as an outlet for their shared frustration and rage, the series sheds some light on the stories we're used to being told about women over the age of 35.
The cast and crew behind Band Ladies represents a force of Canadian talent. Co-creators and writers Kate Fenton and Dana Puddicombe also star as two of the aforementioned band women. Between the two are successful careers in comedy, improv and acting that include Baroness Von Sketch, The Handmaid's Tale and Second City. In spite of the characters they have written lacking plausibility for all actually being friends, the cast maintains a strong dynamic that you can sense had come together based on appreciation of each other's talents as performers and entertainers.
The impossibility of their friendship definitely adds to show's humour, as each of the six ten-minute-episodes plays with how much they want to reveal about the women beyond their current state of dissatisfaction, showing the audience just enough to empathize with (most) of the characters. From a housewife and mother to a bartender at a local music venue to a high-profile lawyer who lives in a penthouse condo, the group's diverse range in lifestyles and socio-economic statuses seems like an effort to create an inclusive cast of characters for women to relate to. However, as some of the characters are afforded more development and their motivations are shown to be more defined than others, this range works against some of the cast and weakens the effect of the band's intended emotional necessity.
This is added to by some logistical issues that are a combination of me splitting hairs as someone who has struggled to put — and keep — bands together, and perhaps just the writers' own lack of involvement in underground music. A windowless basement rehearsal space being handed over by a real estate agent in a suit and five people held together by no real common thread finding the time to meet for practice on a regular basis are two of the more notable quibbles. Band Ladies also features some fairly catchy songs, but I couldn't help but wonder why a show about a group of women forming a punk band for the first time couldn't have reached out to one of Canada's hundreds of women-fronted bands or songwriters for composition, instead crediting the writing to co-creator and producer Molly Flood's (former?) bandmate Christian Hansen.
One night, the group of friends is suddenly driven out of the bar booth after having many-too-many, and, compelled by a lacklustre open music night, the band first play together in a very drunken expression of genuine punk-angst. But as the premise is resolved in such a short amount of time, the band struggle to materialize as a real project in the mind of the viewer and leaves the performances as feeling more of a fantasy happening in the characters' minds. This feels unfair to characters you have grown to quickly care about, as you're left wanting more for them.
Fast, short and kind of awkward, like a true punk song, Band Ladies is still a pleasure to watch. It offers a refreshing confrontation onto who we often support in making music, and a reminder that everyone can benefit from punk music's greatest strengths — being stupid, having fun and yelling about the real things that are bothering you.