Veronica Vale (played by Karen Knox) and Alice O’Hara (played by Gwenlyn Cumyn). At first introduction, Veronica appears to be a vapid, selfish and vain party girl and Alice is appears to be your honest, sweet, grounded girl next door. As the series progresses you find out there is far more than meets the eye when it comes to these characters.
Lulu: “I’ve never kissed a girl before”
Alice: “I think you’ll like it.”
How Alice (Gwenlyn Cumyn) responds to Lulu’s statement is exactly how I respond to people that I am recommending Barbelle to who haven’t seen it – “I think you’ll like it.” Heck, I know you will love it because it is impossible not to love Barbelle. The writing is smart, funny, touching and relatable. The main characters are layered and complex. The situations are hilarious and also ripe with tension, hilarity and heart.
Don’t be fooled, Barbelle isn’t all Poptarts and kisses. The series also tackles many serious issues such as coming out, feeling embarrassed or ashamed of being gay, dating someone who is in the closet and the difficulties with that; getting over an ex, winning back an ex, dealing with societal pressures, body image, alcoholism, shop lifting eating disorders and social anxieties. While the premise, pop songs, the pie jokes and whip cream lingerie may be the frosting on the strawberry Poptart that is Barbelle, the filling is all heart. I am so thankful to the creators of Barbelle for making such a smart and touching web series.
Each of the main characters (Alice, Veronica, Brooklyn, Lulu) manages to steal a part of my heart. I have become so invested in all of their stories. I truly hope there is a second season so that we can see where they all go next. Let’s break down Season One by exploring each character!
Brooklyn: When we first see Brooklyn (Kiana Madeira) it is on her YouTube channel, wearing a florescent colored wig, raving about Barbelle and how she got a letter from Veronica (Karen Knox) asking her to her prom. Not only does this scene put Veronica in a new perspective for the audience, but it introduces us to one of my favorite characters, Brooklyn. The first time we see Brooklyn without her wig is when she turns off her camera and stops recording. I found when she wears the wig and possibly why she wears this wig to be fascinating. I can only speculate, of course. By the end of the season we find out that Brooklyn (who is out and proud in high school) asked a girl from her school to go to prom with her and the girl’s cruel response is “you’re too weird” to be gay for. The look on Brooklyn’s face as she recounts this encounter is enough to make you want to reach through the screen and hug her. Perhaps Brooklyn wears the wig because she wants to put out a different persona than she does in school. In school she is seen as being the outlier, the gay girl, the weird girl. If this is the case, then it is not surprising that to the internet she wants to display a different self, a confident person who embraces their uniqueness. Hopefully, Brooklyn comes to realize about herself what it only took a handful of scenes for the audience to realize, that being that she is such a brave, kind, loving, giving, grounded and thoughtful person that anyone should be more than happy to be gay for! As further proof, I remind you all of the scene where Veronica initially stands Brooklyn up for her own prom and she is devastated. However, as soon as Alice reveals that she and Veronica have broken up, Brooklyn (without any regard for her own feelings and own personal drama) gets over herself, re-emerges from the bathroom stall and focuses solely on cheering up Alice and being there for her, as best as she can. If after that moment Brooklyn did not cement herself in being one of your favorite characters, then you clearly have not been watching very closely. As further evidence, Lulu (Cynthia Hicks) was awful to Brooklyn at the prom and despite all of that, when Brooklyn comes across Lulu upset in the bathroom, Brooklyn puts how harshly Lulu treated her aside and is just simply there for a complete stranger. How can you not love Brooklyn?
Lulu: By the end of the first season many people may see Lulu as the villain (the character you root against), but I don’t. I see Lulu as a scared and inexperienced woman who is struggling with the new realities of her life and is still going through the process of coming out and coming to terms with her own identity. I cannot speak for the entire LGBTQ+ community, but I can talk from my own experiences in coming out. I struggled for approximately fourteen years so I certainly do not besmirch Lulu that she couldn’t easily embrace such a significant life change in the span of one season. In fact, this is just another example of where the writers and creator provide a realist and relatable representation of coming out. For some people they embrace it right away and lead the parade in June. For others, such as myself, it is a long, long, long, long process. Lulu has (as she calls it) “Jesus loving parents” and I have Roman Catholic Republican parents. Thus, neither of us had a supportive environment to come out in. When I came out, and the numerous times I had to keep coming out to my mom as she apparently suffers from selective amnesia (meaning she chooses not to remember anything that she doesn’t want to remember), it was not fun. Each time it did not get any easier. There was no joining me at Pride or embracing the Pride flag. There was no “I love you no matter what.” It was and is a difficult situation and the main reason that I grappled with the process for fourteen years. As we saw from Lulu’s father’s reaction to finding out his daughter is dating Alice, she was not wrong to believe that her parents would not be accepting. When Lulu tells Alice over the phone “being gay isn’t really who I am” that was all too real and relatable for me. For years I told myself that. In fact, for years my mother told me that about myself. So t o finally hear another character say it, it really hit home. While my heart was breaking for Alice at the uttering of those words, it was also breaking for Lulu because I knew that every time I said those words to myself or to someone else during those fourteen years, I was lying to myself and I was scared and I never felt so alone in my life. To the writers who put those words in this scene, get out of my head. Also…thank you! By the end of the season Lulu wants Alice back and realizes that she cannot deny how she feels and what she feels for Alice, but at the same time she is not anywhere near ready to be out and proud. She is also not ready to be and give Alice what she needs. After she talks to Brooklyn, Lulu appears to have a new resolve to come out to her parents. I definitely want a Season Two to see if Lulu went through with it or not. Before I actually came out to my parents I almost came out to them at least twenty or so times. So, just because you want to come out to someone, it doesn’t mean you actually accomplish it on the first attempt.
Alice: The nice and loyal one. The one that always tries to do the right thing for everyone. It is impossible not to like Alice. It is impossible not to root for Alice. In the first episode Alice states that she wants to break up with Veronica and wants the band to break up. We don’t get the answer of why or what happened…right away. Rather, it is sprinkled throughout the rest of the season with each episode filling in more and more of the blanks. The audience finally learns that Alice simply got tired of Veronica not trying and not being there. Alice simply got tired of Veronica doing whatever she wants and leaving Alice to clean up all of the resulting mess. Despite Alice moving on with Lulu, you can tell (thanks to the wonderful portrayal by Cumyn) that Alice still cares for and loves Veronica. I applaud Alice for breaking up with Veronica. When you are a people pleaser who always puts others first, like Alice does, it is rare for that person to finally put their own needs and wants first. It clearly took a lot to get Alice to that point and despite being completely entitled to be happy (even if it means hurting someone she loves in the process) you can tell through the first season that she feels guilty for breaking up with Veronica and hurting her. You can see Alice wince every time someone remarks how she is the “nice one” or the “sweet one” or the “loyal one.” The complexity that is shown in Alice’s character is amazing and captivating and incredibly appreciated. When it comes to Alice, I just want her to be happy. If Veronica makes her happy then I want her with Veronica. When Lulu was making her happy, I was good with her with Lulu. I also applauded Alice at the end of the season for turning Lulu down when Lulu said she wanted to get back together and that she would just use a beard to cover up their relationship. Alice turned her down because she didn’t want to be someone’s secret and she didn’t want to have to hide that part of herself. I was so proud of Alice for finally stating what she wants and demanding more for herself from those around her. For her relationship with Veronica it appeared that Alice just wanted Veronica to show up and be present. By the end of the last episode, Veronica (thanks to a visit by the ghost of girlfriends past) finally shows up and thus wins back the fair Alice just in time for the perfect prom moment. It will be interesting to see how Veronica and Alice handle being together again. It will be interesting to see if they will try to deal with their issues, which are still very much so present, or whether they will just try to ignore them and more forward. I will also be interesting to see if Alice will stand up for herself more like she did in the final episodes of Season One. I, for one, hope that she does!
Veronica: You could say that I saved the most complex for last. In the first part of episode one I incorrectly assumed that Veronica was just going to be another vain, selfish character that I would be annoyed by and completely root against. Nothing could be further from the truth. Veronica ended up being the most complex of all the main characters. Veronica is struggling with so many inner demons, but so few realize this because the surface is so deceiving. Veronica wears her bravado as a shield to mask her struggles with body image and self-worth. Knox shows so much turmoil and struggle with just a look or a quiver of her bottom lip. When it was evident that Veronica was determined to get Alice back, I started to root for Veronica. When Veronica asked Brooklyn to prom, she won me over. The skill of the writers and Knox’s portrayal of Veronica to be able to take a character that you think is all surface and then turn her into the emotional bedrock of the series leaves this writer without any words. Veronica experienced the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows – all in just one season. Now that Veronica has finally chosen to show up, I wonder what she will do with her second chance. Veronica was not only given a second chance with Alice, but also a second chance at her own life. A second chance to be someone she is proud of; to be a good person; a person of self-worth. Veronica never talks to anyone about her body image issues or her self-worth issues and I really hope (especially if “Alveronica” has any chance of being the endgame) that Veronica opens up about these issue with Alice. I hope that one day very soon that Veronica can look in a mirror and not just like what she sees, but who she sees.
I would be completely remiss if I did not give a special shout out to the two stars, creators, producers and writers of Barbelle: Gwenlyn Cumyn and Karen Knox. Karen Knox manages to take a selfish, self-destructive character (which Veronica is very often in the series portrayed to be) and brings true gravitas and heart to the role. When first introduced to Veronica, I planned on her being the villain character that I would root against for the rest of the series when quite the opposite occurred. From episode three on, I saw the good, the vulnerability and false bravado of Veronica and became her loudest cheerleader. Additionally, Gwenlyn Cumyn’s portrayal of Alice is layered, gentle, subtle and perfect. There is never a point in the story where I was not rooting for Alice to get her happy ending, with whomever she chooses. In the first four episodes Cumyn had to continually portray Alice as knowing she is having a secret affair, but not letting other characters (particularly Veronica) find out. Cumyn’s natural comedic timing and endearing awkwardness that she lends to Alice is perfect for the part and sure to make Alice a favorite in anyone’s eyes and heart.
One of the many aspects of this series that I have fallen completely in love with is that fact that I can see a part of myself in each main character. I have been loyal and caring like Alice. I have been afraid and in denial like Lulu. I have been pinning and desperate like Veronica. I have been insecure and hurt like Brooklyn. Each main character is so completely relatable.
Barbelle provides an interesting, captivating, original character driven story with positive and realistic LGBTQ+ representation. So, if you haven’t already, subscribe to Kinda_Tv and don’t miss out on this amazing new series!
WHERE CAN I WATCH? Barbelle can be found on Kinda_Tv.