“Binge” Explores Eating Disorders with Humor

“Binge” Explores Eating Disorders with Humor

Between shows like Broad City, Insecure and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, it’s been a good couple years for comedies that explore the more painful, awkward and liberating moments that come with being a woman. Cue Binge, an irreverent, sparkly, very funny comedy about an anti-hero who suffers from bulimia. If you like the shows listed above, you’re going to want to see more than just the pilot.

Check out the full pilot here. It’s seriously hilarious, raw and unique.

The show is looking for a home, so if you know any bigwigs, hit ’em up.

To learn more about Binge, I chatted with its creator, Angela Gulner, over email about it.

What did you do before you created Binge? What led up to it?
I moved to L.A. after graduate school in 2011 to pursue acting. And while I was fortunate to attend a really great grad school (I got my MFA in Acting from Harvard), it is tough as hell to get your feet off the ground out here. During those first few years, I did basically any project that I could get my hands on. Usually for no pay. Some of those were great experiences, others were … we’ll call them learning experiences. But for those first three or so years, I didn’t have an agent or a manager that could get me into audition rooms. So I wasn’t even able to audition for the film and TV work I moved out here to pursue.

It was incredibly frustrating and disheartening. I’d go to meetings with agents, and they’d tell me I was “too green” or “not a size two” or “too old” (I was 24). One even told me that I “needed to learn how to be a person” before they’d consider representing me. WTF does that even mean?! I was losing my mind, and my self-confidence was shot. I felt like I was making no headway. Acting is a crazy-making profession because you more-or-less have to wait for someone else to give you permission to do your craft.

Meanwhile, my bulimia was spinning out of control. I was stuck in this horrible “starve, binge, purge, repeat” cycle I couldn’t escape. I was binge drinking, and I was in a really toxic relationship. Things were a total mess. I couldn’t keep my head above water emotionally or physically — and acting — when I got to do it — started losing its joy. I ended up sort of accidentally checking myself into treatment at a center in Pasadena (not dissimilar to what is portrayed in Binge). I thought I was going in for routine therapy, and they told me I had come to a Partial Hospitalization Center — 7 hours a day, 6 days a week. I was there for about 4 months. And miraculously, I got better.

Once in recovery, I focused on getting my creative life back. I was agent-less, with no substantial credits, or industry interest in me, but I was finally healthy and I needed to create. So I decided to write. I asked my good friend Yuri Baranovsky to develop Binge with me, and we got to work. It saved my spirit.

Now, I write pretty much daily. I have a feminist feature comedy in development with a different writing partner, and a bunch of other fun stuff brewing. Binge revitalized my creative life and I am so excited to be sharing it with the world!

How did you create the main character? How much is she rooted in your own life and experience?

Ha. My mom was really concerned about that, too …

Angela (the character) is sort of like my id. She’s me when I was in my eating disorder, but turned up a few notches. Was I that drunk? Yes. Was I that sick? Yes. Was I that selfish? Yes. Was I that promiscuous? Sorry mom, but kind of, yeah. Angela in the series is how I wanted to behave when I was in my eating disorder, but the real me was too concerned with what others thought of me to be that irreverent. The real me, when I was sick, had a better façade. Unless you lived with me, you probably couldn’t tell that I was unraveling. I was incredibly good at hiding it. Angela in the show isn’t. She doesn’t give a fuck. In a way, I admire her for being so in-your-face about her flaws. She’s clearly screaming to help at the top of her lungs, but she’s authentic. I was hiding my pain because I was embarrassed by it.

The biggest difference is that I didn’t have an affair with my therapist (although she’s a very beautiful woman ;) ). The treatment facility I went to was wonderful and ethical and amazing. I’m sure weird sexual stuff between therapists and clients (sadly) happens, but it didn’t happen to me, and as far as I know, it didn’t happen at the place I went to for treatment. That’s something I want to be super clear about. I am so grateful to the incredible staff in Pasadena — they saved my life.

My favorite thing about this Pilot — what I feel is it’s biggest strength —- is that it feels like what bulimia felt like to me. The details might be a little different, the comedy might be edged up a bit — but feeling of it is dead on. I watch it and I go yes. That was it. That was how it felt.

Humor isn’t often used as a tool for approaching problems like eating disorders. Was this important to you? And how do you think it can be done in a way that creates dialog rather than stigma?
It was super important to me that Binge be funny. I wouldn’t want to make a show about bulimia —or any mental illness, for that matter — that wasn’t. I grew up watching those made-for-TV movies about the sad anorexic girls … wasn’t there one about a gymnast? Starring the pink Power Ranger? I think we watched that one in high school. And they just rang so false. There was too much emotional manipulation, too much “teaching a lesson,” too many scare tactics. And so many family dramas or procedurals on network TV just give eating disorders a stupid one episode arc: little sister won’t eat, family is concerned, family sits down and has emotional talk with little sister, little sister cries, little sister eats, eating disorder cured … that’s insanity.

I lived with an eating disorder for 10 years. And it sucked, yes (it really fucking sucked), but I still lived a fairly full and mostly vibrant life. I managed to graduate from Harvard. I had boyfriends. I kept jobs. The biggest danger, I think, with eating disorders, is that they are sneaky. You don’t even realize that the illness is growing until it’s too late. Destructive habits become a normal part of your daily life really quickly. And so most of the time, I didn’t think my behaviors were weird. I wasn’t judging them. Yes, I was depressed and hated myself and my body and thought primarily about food, but I also had killer friendships and some great successes. Human beings aren’t just one thing — and mental illnesses aren’t just one thing. They’re not just sad, or scary, or dangerous. They’re messy and funny and awkward and flawed and sad and scary and hilarious and real. And any TV show or movie about them needs to be all of those things.

I also think, as a writer, you can pack the most dramatic punch when you coat a piece in comedy. Comedy is an amazing way to get the audience to really examine what they are seeing on screen, instead of just feeling sorry for it. I want audience to think: Should I be laughing at this?! Ah! I’m laughing at this! Oh God, that’s hilarious and terrible! I’m laughing but I shouldn’t be! I want to reel them in with laughter, and then punch them in the gut.

Too much drama — especially with something as ugly and self-involved as bulimia — and we stop listening. It weighs us down. I don’t want the audience to feel sorry for Angela, I want them to feel like they ARE Angela. Comedy is a great equalizer, and regardless of the viewer’s experience (or lack thereof) with an eating disorder, I hope the comedy will allow them to see themselves in Angela.

And you make a great point, about creating conversation with comedy, instead of stigma. Laughter eases tension. And I really do think it makes dialog easier. When I tell people I’m making a show about my time with bulimia, they immediately get really uncomfortable, serious, and nervous. It’s alienating. They don’t know what to say and they want to get out of the moment as quickly as possible. “I’m so sorry. That must have been hard.” But the moment I crack a joke, or present it as a comedy, the tension leaves the room. Everyone laughs, sighs, and is present together. That’s so cool! I don’t know much about that. I have depression, and I think it’s awesome you’re putting your flaws on screen. That’s when the really good and productive conversation can happen.

It’s time to stop thinking about mental illness as something to be ashamed of, or something that happens to “other people.” Most people have or are going through some serious shit. And pushing it down out of fear, or shame, or stigma is so deeply damaging. But I think there’s a resistance to talking about it because the assumption is that the conversation has to be heavy. It doesn’t. Real life is funny. Mental illness is funny. I hope Binge is a conversation starter and a community builder.

Any previews for upcoming episodes? Issues that are tackled, etc.?

Yes! We envision the series being set half in Angela’s outside life, and half in the treatment center.
In treatment, we will get a know a variety of individuals in different stages of their recovery. Women of all ages, and a few men. Eating disorders develop for a variety of reasons, but a primary factor (that I myself didn’t experience) for many people is sexual abuse. That’s an issue I am very passionate about exploring. Almost every person in my treatment center had experienced it in some form or another, and those scars run deep. We have to address it. We also plan to tackle OCD (this, I have experienced), perfectionism, how religion and food/body purity work together, sexual orientation and gender identity. There’s also the complicated world of medical insurance and pharmaceuticals. Treatment is expensive, and without good insurance, it is nearly impossible to afford. We won’t skirt around that. I myself am a big fan of (correctly and responsibly prescribed and taken) prescription drugs, but they aren’t for everyone. There’s a huge world inside the clinic, and it’s incredibly complex and endlessly fascinating.

What are your hopes for the series?

We hope to find our audience. And with our audience, the right team/studio/production company/rich relative to work with us to get the series made. The industry is changing so quickly right now. Most people are viewing their content online, whether that content is a network show, or cable, or digital, or YouTube. And because of that, the power is shifting more and more into the hands of the viewers. Enough clicks, shares, and likes, and you can get the attention of some of the biggest studios in Hollywood. We’re here to prove that this story has an audience, and that that audience wants more. We’re open to working in a variety of formats — but hell, if FX called us tomorrow, we’d be over the freaking moon … (hint hint, FX)

We believe in this story, we feel it deserves to be told. And how ever we can tell it, and reach out audience — that is our goal.

What readers can do is social media the crap out of us! Share, like, view, email, call your sister’s husband’s uncle’s golf friend who works in Hollywood and make her watch it.

Finally, you mentioned that the holidays can be a really hard time for people with eating disorders. Do you have any advice for people out there who are going through this right now?

The holidays are tough. But you can get through them.
Planning ahead with your therapist is incredibly helpful. Make a list of things you can do when your urges crop up — go on a walk, take a shower, play with your dog, count to 10, do a sun salutation, listen to your favorite song. Anything to slow your thinking down and get you back into the present moment.

Be gentle with yourself. It’s okay not to be perfect. You don’t have to be “cured” tomorrow. Try to feel your feet on the ground, and the air in your lungs with the anxiety kicks in. Have a list of 3 friends you can call in an emergency. If you need to be alone, or create boundaries with your family, create them. I found it helpful to warn my mom that holiday gatherings were going to be really hard, and I might only be able to stay for an hour instead of our usual six. Ask for what you need. If it’s too stressful to have a counter full of cookies, ask your husband to put them away. Boundaries are good.

Your pain is valid. You are not making it up. It is hard. And you can get through it. I did.
National Eating Disorder Association Helpline: 800-931-2237