Forging empathy from chaos with Wormholes–Fandom Underground

1 year ago 216

Wormholes is the kind of artistic miracle that can only happen when the right people are in the right place at the right time, when everything else is going wrong. This no-budget, universe-hopping sitcom was born out of the darkness of the 2020 lockdowns when Gamal ElSawah, Sajda Waite, and Conrado Falco III found themselves trapped in an apartment together. With nowhere to go and no outlet for their creativity, the trio worked within their limitations to create one of the funniest, most heartfelt series I have had the pleasure to experience. Reinterpreting their worser impulses and neuroses into the feckless influencer Bayleaf Calvaire (Sajda), egotistical poet Salman Saeed (Gamal), and socially inept but lovable superintendent Gazpacho (Conrado), the cast navigate artistic integrity and time-bending existentialism over the course of the show’s two seasons when they discover an extra-dimensional wormhole in their apartment closet.

A quick note on Wormhole’s inclusion in the Fandom Underground series: this breaks the mold in that it is not a fan film, but if you’ve come to appreciate the underdog spirit of the filmmakers I’ve been writing about, contending with low budgets and dubious legality, I have no doubt that you will appreciate Wormholes for the achievement that it is, and agree it fits right alongside the triumphs of the filmmakers I’ve been highlighting in this series.

The wormhole was a simple solution to a complicated problem: when locked in a single location, it allows for the introduction of new plot points with every episode. Those plot points started out as a series of gags, with little more goal than to burn time as the team waited out the lockdown. Musical episodes, a possession by the ghost of Alexander Graham Bell, and other absurdities ensue as a result of the wormhole. One of my favorite gags comes in the form of Gazpacho’s French, beatnik doppelganger. While he starts out speaking genuine French, the writer’s knowledge of the language seems to slowly devolve until all he’s speaking by the end of the episode is vaguely French-sounding noises. The show slowly transitioned away from pure comedy and towards a deep examination of the anxieties that afflict every artist in the modern era.

Words of wisdom that got my French ancestors through two world wars and having to live near to the British

Wormholes was not intended to be the anthem of confidence that it eventually became. Influenced by 60s era science fiction like the Twilight Zone, it was envisioned only as a way to kill time and tell stories. As it went on, the time and effort that went into the project ballooned, as well as the length of its episodes and the scope of its stories. By the end of season 2, Wormholes staked its claim as a weapon against the superficiality and egotism of the modern art scene, in which too many voices with too much talent are drowned out in favor of all the wrong people. The chaos that was roiling the world in 2020 found its way into Wormholes and the minds of its creators. Gamal and Sajda were able to exorcise some of the frustrations they experienced in the world of writing and influencing, all taken to their most illogical extremes over the course of the episodes. What resulted was a unique encapsulation of a mindset; the show became a form of therapy for the wayward millennial artists who created it, and any who take the time to watch. They struggled with the sad reality of the world of artists, their parents’ expectations, and their own fumbling attempts to make connections on the internet, a network built on ambiguity and artifice.

I have to shout out the kinds of innovations that being locked in an apartment forces creatives to come up with: one of the best ongoing plotlines was the apartment dog and its struggle with its own existence. You see, the team knew that they would need an explanation for why a dog would be walking around in the background of their shots. Ever the dramatists, it didn’t occur to them to just say the characters had a dog. Rather, the dog was a bouquet of flowers that went through the wormhole and returned a self-aware telepathic canid. This served the dual purposes of explaining its presence and allowing them to introduce a new character through voice-acting, without introducing a new actor (and their potential pathogens) into the apartment. While this could have been a one-off gag, the dog being the most mature and stable of all of the characters, faced with the absurdity of its origins wove a thread of drama through the show that stands unchallenged in most sitcoms, nay most television in general, and all for the cost of needing to explain background detail. Enough can’t be said of Oscar Chasnoff Klausner’s deadpan performance, delivered from a series of hotels as he traveled the country in a pickup truck.

With the right writing, you’d be amazed what a strobe light in a closet can achieve

It’s important to recognize how much of an achievement this show was. Only possible because of the limitations under which it was created, this is the type of show we will never see the likes of again. First conceived in May of 2020 and written on the apartment floor, episodes were filmed through October and released Spring of 2021. Beyond Conrado’s experience with some short films, the team had little knowledge of the language of film, and Wormholes would serve as a crash course in low budget television. Gamal described the show as “really a full time job not getting paid.” Working tirelessly over the course of months, they produced the first season and thought they would leave it at its cynical cliffhanger, in which the characters venture through the wormhole, leaving our world behind forever as a lost cause. The show’s surprising popularity among all who saw it spurred the creation of a second season, exploring the consequences and morality of that decision.

With an audience of artists and the end of the lockdowns, Wormholes expanded its cast, locations, and concepts during the second season. Season one is funny and intelligent, but season two is what launches it into one of my favorite shows of all time. Its transition from off the wall humor into existential horror, culminating in a climax full of warm humanism, it beggars the imagination how something like this hasn’t found the audience it deserved. Filmed in Astoria and parts of upstate New York and released in October 2021, season two would end winning Best Web Series at the Astoria Film Festival, its honor all the more meaningful by closing the circle in Gamal and Sajda’s hometown.

If you don’t find the friendship of a neglected super and an existentially challenged telepathic dog endearing, I pity your joyless soul

Watching Wormholes, you get immersed in two stories, each as valuable and unique as the other, forging a whole that no budget or studio could ever match. The story of Gazpacho and his tenants ruining timelines with their antics and slowly learning to overcome their anxieties is one for the ages. The story of three artists forging a family and making the best out of a global tragedy, pushing themselves to their limits and making art under conditions that won’t be replicated for another century (if trends continue), adds a new dimension to the experience. While the rest of us were going insane, locked in our houses and minds by a global sickness, three artists lived their dream and told the tale of something better.

You can find the entire series available for free on the Wormholes Youtube page. I also encourage you to follow the creators on their social media to see more of what Gamal, Sajda, and Conrado have to offer.

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John Farrell is a legal aid administrator, living in West Chester Pennsylvania. You can listen to him travel the weird west as Carrie A. Nation in the Joker's Wild podcast at:

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