Here on Venice Beach: Season One Review of Crystal Chappell’s Passion Project

I just finished watching the season finale of Venice, the groundbreaking, web soap opera from Guiding Light and Days of Our Lives’ superstar Crystal Chappell, talented writer Kim Turrisi and sharp director Hope Royaltey, and all I can say is I hope a fly doesn’t get a chance to head down my throat before I can pick my jaw up from the floor! If you are one of those people who opted not to subscribe to the web series, let me just say the season one cliffhanger featuring GL alum Jordan Clarke as Col. John Brogno— the homophobic father of Chappell’s principle character Gina— alone was well worth the 10 bucks I paid, if only to make sure I know the backstory for what is sure to be a much stronger second season. But for now, let’s talk about the season that was.

Venice got off to an amazing start 10 weeks ago by giving long-suffering fans of GL’s monster hit supercouple Otalia the payoff they had been so cruelly denied by CBS and Procter and Gamble. The first episode introduced us to the troubled Gina, a successful interior designer living and loving on Venice Beach and her sometimes lover Ani, played by Chappell’s former GL costar Jessica Leccia. I stood up and cheered (okay, no I didn’t, but I did do a seated version of Janet Jackson’s popular 80’s dance The Cabbage Patch) as Olivia Gina and Natalia  Ani finally got to walk it like a dawg—complete with the ever-enterprising Chappell sporting Venice-themed panties for sale at Venice‘s official website. I couldn’t wait until the next episode to see where Gina and Ani’s complicated relationship would take me!

Fast forward to the next week and I found myself basically needing to hire an IT person from the CIA in order to watch the series, which was by then being streamed online at theVenice website for subscribers only. Reportedly, the website’s servers weren’t strong enough to withstand all the traffic from Chappell and Leccia’s diehard, legion of  fans (Hey, these people did crash the CNN International and Curve magazine sites after all!). I ran into similar issues when I tried to watch the third installment the following week.
In full disclosure, I must admit I was a bit cross over these early techinical difficulties. I have the attention span of a gnat on cocaine, and am not the most patient of souls, just ask my business partner Luke Kerr who routinely has to deal with my temper tantrums when things don’t meet my anal set of standards. Sorry, Luke, I’m reading Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff as we type, I promise! Plus, if it’s one thing you don’t mess with, it’s black peoples’ money! If I pay for something, I want it right then and there.

My immediate reaction to Venice‘s tech troubles was that these things probably should have been worked out before the show’s launch, especially if fans were going to be paying to see the series. I didn’t mind ponying up the cash, because these shows cost money, and I applaud Chappell and Co. for developing a revenue model that works for them in keeping a web soap opera in production and allowing them to make a profit, because if it don’t make dollars, it don’t make sense, but for all you aspiring web soap producers out there, please make sure you’ve estimated your audience and bandwidth needs prior to a much-publicized roll out. I am not saying this at all in a snippy way, because I adore La Chappell and her sisterfriends, but it would be a disservice not to be honest about this as we all grow and learn about the brave, new world of web soaps.
Because of my love for Chappell and Co. and what they were trying to accomplish, I kept making the attempt to go back and view their passion project until I was finally able to watch the show with success. After interviewing Chappell for Curve, I knew what it meant for her to do Venice for all those gay and lesbian soap fans who wrote to her during the last months of GL about how inspiring Otalia was for them. I planned to stick it out with Venice through good times and glitches. So since we’ve already dealt with the glitches, let’s talk about the good times— and the not so good times— of Venice‘s first season.

From the start I loved the realistic feel of Venice. Unlike the initial episodes of Martha Byrne‘s Gotham, which I criticized for being a bit too old-school soapy, early on Venice felt like a sleek, cable series you’d find on HBO or Showtime. Now the rest of this review will not be a tit for tat comparing and contrasting Venice to Gotham, but since the two series rolled out at the same time, it was hard not to make the occasional comparison.

Gina and Ani, the starcrossed lovers of Venice felt much more like real people than Richard (Michael Park) and Catherine (Byrne) in Gotham‘s pilot and subsequent first couple of episodes. I will admit Chappell and Leccia’s already established chemistry from GL no doubt influenced my favoring them initially, but beyond that I really wanted to know more about these two women. Why was Gina so angry and depressed in her personal life, while her work life thrived? What kept drawing Ani back in? Unfortunately, it was practically the end of the season before I even started to get my answers, whereas Gotham managed to get its act together much earlier. 

For some reason, the Gina/Ani romance—Venice‘s central hook— took a backseat to Gina’s familial relationships with her hunky, actor brother, Owen (Galen Gering), weirdly-comedic aunt, Guya (Hilary B. Smith) and aforementioned, homophobic pop, The Colonel (Clarke). For the life of me I am still trying to figure out why this Guya individual was sniffing a startled Tina Sloan in episode two.

The third episode introduced us to Tracy (Lesli Kay), a sometimes-British businesswoman whom Gina took a liking to. I say sometimes, because her accent came and went more times than All My Children head writing teams. Kay, like Chappell, is one of my all-time favorite soap actresses, but something was a bit off with this character. She didn’t seem  real to me, which made her stand out among Venice‘s better drawn supporting characters. Tracy appeared at times both in awe of Gina and terrified of her, and not in a good way.

Tracy was sadly the first Kay character I didn’t absolutely love since her early days on As The World Turns.  Everytime she showed up I kept asking myself, "Where in high hell is Ani?" I wanted a web series that reunited Otalia, not Olivia Spencer with Felicia Forrester! Not that I mind interlopers, they are necessary soap staples, but without Ani featured prominently in the batch of episodes where Gina and Tracy’s relationship began, this triangle was missing an all-important leg for much too long during the first season.
Instead of building on the heat of Gina and Ani from the pilot, Venice spent numerous scenes in numerous episodes establishing the sibling bond between Owen and Gina. While Chappell and Gering have a nice, easy chemistry that makes me buy them as brother and sister, and it was cute to see them cutting up with their Aunt Guya  (who became much less weird when bonding with her late sister’s kids), I still found myself wondering, "Where in high hell is Ani?"

Gina and Owen’s relationship with The Colonel was disturbing to watch. While It was nice to finally be clued in on one of the factors that made Gina such damaged goods (her father is an asshat), the episode in which The Colonel criticized Gina for being gay and Owen for being a struggling actor felt a tad bit forced. Would this man really be such a tool as to start in on his kids before the Leg of Lamb was even served? That being said, Chappell gave one of her trademark brilliant performances when she ripped into her father, revealing to him that he was just as much a disappointment to her as she was to him, thus salvaging the episode.

Owen’s (C) story romance with Sami, a Peace Corps goody-goody played by GL and One Life to Live‘s Gina Tognoni, was sweet, but unnecessary. Here’s where I am going to give the Venice peeps the same bit of advice I gave the Gotham gang. WIth such precious, little time in a web series to tell the (A) story properly, you can’t get bogged down in subplots. I would definitely watch a spinoff featuring Owen and Sami, but when a show only airs for five-to-eight minutes-a-week, the central characters need to drive story. Chappell assembled an amazing group of supporting, soapy actors, all of whom I would love to see mix it up on a 30-minute or hour-long sudser, but Sniffing Aunt Guya, and Owen and Sami’s talky romance just frustrated me, because again, I was wondering, ‘Where in high hell is Ani?"

Near the end of the first season, Ani finally returned to the front burner in a game-changing romance with Lara Miller (the never-more striking Nadia Bjorlin from Days of Our Lives), a childrens’ book author, who met harried, fashion photographer Ani at a bar. Holy Sexual Chemistry Batman! Ani and Lara’s flirty first scene had me about ready to ask, "Otalia, who?"

The season one finale of Venice saw four of the sexiest, brunette lesbians (I guess blondes in the Venice universe are strictly dickly?) to ever descend on SoCal all meeting up face-to-face at the rooftop restaurant Gina and her peeps frequent, as Owen sat there struggling  to keep from wondering what they all did to each other in bed. This resulted in twin scenes were Ani and Lara and then Gina and Tracy discussed what I was still desperately trying to figure out myself at this point— what exactly do Gina and Ani mean to one another? On GL it was all-too apparent that Olivia and Natalia were meant to be together. On Venice it wasn’t so clear with Gina and Ani.

To be honest, if I had just happened upon this series on the web, and had never heard of Otalia, I would definitely be rooting for Ani to pick Lara over moody Gina at this point. Here’s hoping season two of Venice picks up with a jucy, front burner storyline featuring a Gina/Ani/Lara triangle that has Gina getting over herself and fighting like hell to get her girl back. Sorry Tracy, but you can hop back across the pond and take several other nonessential character with you. I’m not saying I want Venice to be All Gina and Ani, All The Time, but in my opinion, that would be the best use of time for this web series, that is of course unless Venice extends to 15-minute episodes. I don’t mind seeing more of The Colonel (especially after that kinktastic shocker in the finale!), Weird Aunt Guya, Owen, or even Sami, if they tie them more tightly to the main narrative, but Venice is much too pretty and promising a place— and a web soap— to keep taking so many unnecessary detours. 


20 Responses

  1. Profile photo of naughtytomato

    I agree that they need to build Ani/Laura/Gina for s2. Get on with the soapy love triangle. We know CC and JL have chemistry, and now JL and NB have chemistry – so it’s win/win.

    They need to tie in the scenes or episodes need to flow into one another better rather than seeming like loan vinettets a-la ep 2 Guyna/Katherine or Alan w/boots or Gina/fu—–ard or Gina on-line poker.

    There was some repetition in the writing suprisingly for such a short show. Why have characters say the same thing.

    Please no more shout outs KIm T. Now we know too much from twitter. Please don’t make a character a FSU grad crazy about football or some shit like that.

    That ending was a surprise. Glad it wasn’t spoiled. Makes you wonder what Gina will do about it. I hope they can balance this development with the love triangle.

    Season 2 will be make it or break it.
    Break a leg Crystal and team Venice.

  2. Profile photo of desertgal

    As a huge Galen fan I loved watching the relationship of he and Gina (Crystal) especially when they involved Guya.

    I’d also like for them to dive more into the Sami/Owen relationship as well. 
    All in all, (I’m no prude) but I did get a little tired of the crude language, however, I think it was an excellent first season and I’m always so disappointed when it ends so quickly.

    Looking foward to Season 2.

  3. Profile photo of Katiebug9624

    I agree with everything you said Jamey. I consider myself to be a huge Otalia fan but Ani/Lara are were its at right now. I love Leslie Kay but the chemistry just isnt there between Gina/Tracy and I don’t even know when they fell in love. My question is if there going to use Otalia and Jessica Leccia’s pics all over there website then she needs to be on more episodes I think she turned up again after episode 7 instead we got other characters all played by actors I love but nontheless didnt care about. I wanted to see why these women were so fascinated by Gina, how Ani/Gina fell in love and what caused them to break up and if they want to throw in Gina’s family problems then fine but don’t spend almost the whole season dedicated to them I think we got 4 episodes of Ani and only two with Ani/Lara.

  4. Profile photo of BBK

    Love Venice, Love Crystal and the entire talented and gorgeous cast and I am extremely grateful Crystal and Kimmy brought this gay themed series to the internet!!

    Looking forward to Season 2!!!!

  5. Profile photo of Parcrastinator

    Great review Jamey! 

    ‘Where in high hell is Ani?"  Amen to that.  They’ve struck gold with Gina/Ani/Lara, so here’s hoping in Season 2, they keep the focus on them and Ani doesn’t do a 5 episode disappearing act again. 

    One of the key things I think CC did right vs other webseries is target a niche audience that the mainstream was ignoring.  She needs to not lose sight of who her audience is and it’s mainly lesbians.  So the lesbian characters need to stay front and center. Mainstream is already giving us oodles of straight romances. Venice needs to not forget who brought’em to the dance and why they stand head and shoulders above most of the other webseries right now.

    That’s not to say ditch all straight characters, but their storylines and characters need to be more supporting to the main leads. Sort of do the reverse of how gay characters are used in the mainstream amongst all the main straight characters. 

    So with that said, I’ve got no issue with them interweaving Gina’s relationships with family into the storylines. I like the dynamic with Owen (maybe a lil’ less frat-boyish would be nice though). I’m a new fan of Hillary based on her portrayal of Guya, so would look forward to more of her. 

    And I really want to see the fall out between the Colonel and Gina from the finale cliffhanger.  I’m hoping they use it as an opportunity to develop their relationship more and to gleen more insight into Gina’s character vs a murder mystery.

    I also really like GT, so I’m okay with them keeping Sami in season 2, but I want the focus to be on how the Owen/Sami pairing effects Gina vs some big romantic arc focusing on those two.

    The most worrisome to me is Alan and his boots, which when asked in an interview, was the storyline CC mentioned they were going to explore in Season 2.  Why the further exploration of a Gina/Ani/Lara triangle was not the first and only thing she voiced, is cause for concern.

    They didn’t have enough minutes to fully explore their main lesbian characters, why waste valuable minutes on a side character? Please rethink that CC.  You guys have so much potential. You work out some kinks in the writing and you guys are so there.

  6. Profile photo of cubfnatic

    The first thing that impressed me while watching Venice is that for me, it was visually stunning.  The HD, the scenery, and the sets drew me in.   I think the cast is phenomenal and they kept me compelled to want to watch more.  There was not anyone on this show that I did not like, which is rare for me.   

    Many times, I want to analyze a show.  With Venice, I did not.  I really enjoyed letting Venice tell me the story.   This tends to happen to me with my favorite shows such as the Sopranos, Sex & The City, Greys, and Brothers & Sisters.  I feel so comfortable with them, that I just like to sit back and let them tell me a story.   I instantly had that feeling with Venice.   

    I love the scenes with Gina and the Colonel, the Colnel and Guya, Gina and Ani, Ani and Lara.  I loved the confidence that Lara has. There was not a cast member on this show that I did not like which is rare for me.  However, all of these actors are ones that I have watched for years on soaps and I have to commend Venice for picking them.   I love the chemistry between Gina and Owen.   I look forward to seeing where Owen and Sami’s relationship will go.  

    Michelle Carter was an awesome surprise to me.  I thought she was absolutely fabulous. I thought the comedic timing between Guya and Katherine was awesome too.  

    I really look forward to season 2 and to see where these characters will take us.   I thought the behind the scenes were entertaining and I really have to commend Venice for the way they have worked to keep the fans interested.  

    I have never been able to feel a part of a show as I do with Venice due to the cast and crew engaging in social networking with their fans.  I have to commend them for that as well.  For me, it has been a pretty cool thing to watch.   

  7. Profile photo of south

    The BTS was alright…for some reason they felt compelled to show BTS of CC and LK, a couple that doesn’t work, making out and none of JL and CC or JL and NB. 

    I know its CC’s baby and all but I thought she was better directing than acting in this series.

  8. Profile photo of ramzeee68

    I love everything about Venice Season 1.  I love the relationships that were introduced.  I love the realistic feel that Crystal, Kim and Hope produced.  The HD photography is amazing.  The episode where Gina tells off her father gives me chills every time i watch.  The acting is phenomenal!  The writing is incredible and real to life! 
    I have to thank Crystal for listening to her GL fans and completely coming thru with this series.  I have to thank all three for what I think is the best webseries out there.  I cannot wait until Season 2, i know that the girls are working hard to complete the writing and pre-production. 
    Crystal to me is the most hard working actress out there and I feel privileged to be part of this journey and series.  Her ability to not only finish GL and get Venice off the ground but to also move cross-country to be back with her family and start DOOL just makes me love her more.  Not only was she working hard on DOOL but was able to pull together old friends and new to tape season 1 makes me exhausted just thinking about all of this. 
    I seriously don’t think they or anyone could have anticipated the tech problems before hand but I feel confident that they have learned from this and have grown to give us an even better Season 2. 
    Crystal, Kim and Hope, I hope you read this and know that I support you with all things Venice!!!  Love you and hope to see you all soon!!

  9. Profile photo of blake3b

     Love Venice, and I’m soooo glad it’s coming back for another season!
     Kudos to Crystal Chappell for rocking it on Days and giving us Venice. And I have to say it, she has the best cast for a web series: Jessica Leccia, Galen, Jordan Clarke, Hillary Smith, Tina Sloan, Nadia, Gina Tognoni, Leslie Kay???? Damn!!!!!

  10. Profile photo of GossipGirl

    Great, balnced review Jamey! I loved the brother/sister relationship between Gina and Owen. I think Galen Gering is more appealing on Venice than he is on DOOL. Gina and The Colonel’s antagonism towards each other seemed a little forced.

    Not having enough Ani is probably the biggest flaw Season 1 had, so hopefully Tracy will go back to London and Ani will get her screen time. Most people suscribed to see Crystal Chappell and Jessica Leccia back together and they hardly had any scenestogether. I noticed I liked the episodes that Ani was in much better than the episodes without her. I also am liking the Ani/Lara relationship and would rather see them then have Ani go back to Gina. Tracy just did not work and neither did her relationship with Gina.

    There are a few other characters I would like to see more of: like Lara, Michelle and Sami. Besides that one odd scene with Tina Sloan, I enjoyed the character of Guya.

    I didn’t care much for the finale. The ending was okay, but it came out of nowhere. It was very soapy though.

  11. Profile photo of xamanthe

    Thank you, Jamie, for saying EXACTLY what I am thinking. I love Venice and want it to be around a long time, but your critique says what I wanted to say, yet, because of my lack of writing skills, I couldn’t.

    Chappell and Co. Thank you! i applaud your efforts and love Venice S1. I can’t wait for S2!

  12. Profile photo of Suz4th

    Great review, Jamey. You echoed much of what I thought: the great, the good, the not so good. I personally really liked the amount of time devoted to the Giina/Owen relationship, but frequently, like the Owen/Sami relationship, it was too talky. For season 2, Kim T. should take an editor’s red pen to every section of exposition that creeps its way into the script. She’s developed great characters who are played by gifted actors: give them more to do then sit around explaining things.

    I’ll buy Tracy that plane ticket you mentioned. This character didn’t work for me. Not because I wasn’t open to an interloper, but I just never got why these two appear to want to be together so much. I feel like Tracy was kind of forced on us. Conversely, the Ani/Lara relationship was introduced beautifully, it’s unfolding at a nice pace, and we have been allowed to be invested in it. And if Tracy’s still around for season two, she MUST drop that accent. It’s so inconsistent I can’t focus on anything else when she’s speaking. A dropped accent would hardly be new on soaps, which really should think hard before asking an actor to effect one.

    I agree too many characters were introduced in this first season. It seems they were very concerned about laying down the entire foundation before building up. Not necessary; they should have held off on at least a couple of them till season 2.

    That finale WAS jaw-dropping! I absolutely loved it and can’t wait to see what happens in season 2. Oh my, Colonel! Oh my! And the Gina/Ani/Lara triangle is the money. I agree with Jamey: let’s see Gina fight for what she wants, and have to deal with not getting what she wants when she wants it. As we’ve seen, she doesn’t handle that type of thing well. Looking forward to the second season!

  13. Profile photo of Shoot4theMoon

    I hope the producers of "Venice" take this and the other balanced reviews to heart and don’t go into self-protective, armadillo mode. The web series is neither the greatest thing that was ever produced nor is it utter sh*t. It’s a solid first-pass that needs work but has a bounty of riches from which to draw that are needed for that improvement. The primary strength, as everyone with functional eyes and ears knows, is the chemistry between Chappell and Leccia, which was the #1 draw in the first place. For everyone. Season Two needs to use whatever pretext they can invent to have them together as often as possible because that’s the money right there and the key to making it all better. 

    Bjorlin and Gering have been a revelation (DOOL clearly wastes their talent) as has Hillary B. Smith. They’re consistently delightful and highlights without being distractions. Alas, the character of Tracy is an utter failure and spending any more time to attempt to salvage her would be damaging to the overall product. The Colonel is too one-note to be of interest yet and I say that as one who loved Jordan’s Billy Lewis on GL. Perhaps if they take the time to move beyond the cliches with him we could find a more well-rounded personality and, no, creepy conservative dad who secretly likes kinky sex is not what I’m talking about. Too easy, too obvious, too boring.

    And then there’s Gina. Oh, boy. When an actress as talented and charismatic as Crystal Chappell cannot make a character remotely appealing there’s a problem. And Gina is a problem. Big time. The ultra-flawed Olivia Spencer was one of my favorite characters on TV ever but, to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, you, Gina, are no Olivia Spencer. It’s my understanding they were going for troubled or damaged and on a "journey" but I sure wish the "journey" was with someone enjoyable because tuning in each week to see a woman in her forties act like a spoiled teenaged brat is not a good time. I wish I understood why – besides the obvious physical appeal – Ani and Tracy are so smitten with her because I would have left her selfish a** at the first tantrum. If this is the response they were going for then congratulations, success. But a questionable motivation to be sure.

    Overall, my general takeaway from the first season of "Venice" is there is a great deal of potential but I wish it had been more fun because time is precious and I have no interest in wasting even a few minutes each week watching something that makes me feel like it’s a chore. An exceptionally pretty chore, but still a chore.

  14. Profile photo of MadMonza

    Am I the only one that liked Tracy & Gina together? Don’t get me wrong I love Gina & Ani & i know that they are end game however Gina & Tracy were SEXY where Gina & Ani were sweet. 
    I don’t want Venice to finish in 1 season. I want Venice to take me on a journey for a long long time.
    Season 1 was just the first chapter in Gina’s life – not her whole life story.
    we just got introduced to the characters in Gina’s life & hopefully we’ll see these characters grow in more seasons to come.
    The scene where Gina rips into her father was the best i’ve ever seen. for many people around the world this is their reality with their families. Crystal & Kimmy got this right 100%.
    I loved the wall sex scene. it totally depicted how Gina was feeling at the time, trying to get Ani out of her mind. I loved it.
    I loved everything about season 1 and soooo looking forward to many seasons to come.
    I loved the interaction between all the characters, the writting was spot on, the music was great. and OMG Crystal Chappell’s acting was top notch.

    ps: this is not Otalia’s story. this is not Gina & Ani story. This is the story of Gina and the people around her. I love Gina and look forward to know her better.

    Crystal Chappell I ADORE you for all you do.
    Crystal & Kimmy thank you so much for all you’re doing (in your spare time) we owe you forever.

  15. Profile photo of imane111

    I didn’t know CC until she came to dool recently and didn’t know JL befor eVencie.i liek them both but Th eon who hooked me is NB/Lara.She’s the reason I watch venice.Can’t wait to see adraker side of lara.I just hope they won’t make her unrootable so that Gina looks great compared to her for Giani’s sake.Since we all Know Giani is end game it’s hard to invest in Lani,or Tracy and Gina since it’s doomed before it starts.So bring on Giani and someone new for Lara.

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