The press release announcing the debut of the web series “Clench & Release” promises viewers a “sophisticated, black female fronted humor” that is absent from the usual mix of TV and Net-based offerings. For once, a press release hits it smack on the head. This web-based endeavor, which currently consists of four episodes running roughly five minutes each, provides a highly satisfying approach to comedy.
Front and center here is Upright Citizens Brigade comedienne Charla Lauriston, who created this project. Lauriston borrows a page from “Seinfeld” in fashioning the persona of a stand-up comic who is constantly assaulted by the inanities of Manhattan living. But Lauriston’s focus and brand of humor is distinct and extremely original. She takes on issues of race, dating, manners and self-esteem in a style that is equal parts hilarious, jolting, melancholic and visceral. And not unlike the great stand-up comics of yesteryear, Lauriston leaves her invigorated audience hungry for more.
In the first episode, “The Code,” Lauriston happily demolishes racial protocol when her attempt to enjoy a fried chicken lunch at her office day job is derided by her black male co-workers, much to the not-so-secret delight of her white female colleagues. (A poster highlighting “The Caucasian Chalk Circle” on the office wall provides a subtle jab the outsider status that defines Lauriston’s character in the episode.) The title for the second episode, “Dicks,” provides a double meaning when Lauriston encounters an ex-boyfriend with a too-appreciative new lover and a bum exposing himself in public. The newest “Saturday Night Live” cast member, Sasheer Zamata, co-stars as Lauriston’s worldly-wise best friend – and unlike “SNL,” Zamata is provided with a surplus amount of scene-stealing funny lines!
Zamata returns in the fourth episode, “No Arms,” in which Lauriston learns a much-needed lesson in dealing with inane jealousy. The third episode, “Roots,” take a boldly funny view of race relations after Lauriston mistakenly believes that a YouTube viewing of the Alex Haley-inspired TV mini-series on slavery would be a spirit-lifting exercise.
“Clench & Release” is handsomely produced and directed by Rakesh Baruah, and the series’ stylish production values are eons removed from the usual level of web series work. I hope that Lauriston and her talent collaborators return for more episodes – the Internet requires genuinely funny original comedy, and this team knows how to deliver that much-needed commodity.