It would be easy to mistake Luann Algoso's new web series as a Portland version of Insecure. Gabby Antonio Smashes the Imperialist, White Supremacist, Capitalist Patriarchy!, of which Algoso is the writer and star, follows a Filipina woman, Gabby, as she navigates Portland's hotbed of gentrification. Much like Issa Rae's character in HBO's Insecure, Gabby works at a nonprofit and gives herself pep talks in the bathroom mirror.
But those parallels are merely surface level—Gabby Smashes! is uniquely Algoso's. The web series premieres its pilot this week, and is based on Algoso's own experiences moving from Anaheim, Calif., to Portland eight years ago.
"I had never visited Portland before moving here. It was a total culture shock," says Algoso. "I assumed it was another major city where I'd find a community fast. I learned that was not the case."
In Gabby Smashes!, Algoso plays our unsure protagonist who enters the nonprofit world to smash the imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy. But when she lands a job at the fictional UNAPI (Uniting Native Hawaiians, Asians, and Pacific Islanders), Gabby finds herself with a broom closet for an office, failing to connect community members through allegorical games of soccer.
Like a lot of millennials who care about social issues but also enjoy getting high and watching YouTube videos of corgis, Gabby is doing her best. But in the pilot episode, when a food cart opens by the name of "Gooks," Gabby is not so easily distracted, and decides to take action.
The script heavily draws from Algoso's experiences in Portland, particularly from when she worked at the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon. "There have been a couple times where I had to ask myself, 'Am I acting right now? Am I just being me?'" says Algoso.
To bring her story of Asian-American Portlanders to life, Algoso enlisted the help of local filmmaker Dawn Jones Redstone. Both Algoso and Jones Redstone share a passion for nonprofits, and Algoso knew that Jones Redstone's experience making narrative-styled and socially charged short films would be a good fit. Jones Redstone's last project was a social commentary thriller, We Have Our Ways, which was Best Oregon Short Film at this year's Portland International Film Festival.
"I'm excited to tell a longer story, to get to divvy up a major story across multiple episodes," says Jones Redstone. "It's a very different process, but I like how we get to write and fundraise as we go."
Thanks to Algoso's background in performance arts, she's clearly comfortable on camera. Much of the show's humor comes from the day-to-day faux pas at UNAPI. The show interrupts Gabby's co-workers' misguided observations about Asian-American issues with cutaways to her lying in her bedroom delivering the punch line she couldn't say to their face.
Jones Redstone and Algoso have work to do finding the right rhythm for quick cutaway comedy. But the series is already leagues more realistic and relatable than any big-budgeted shows attempting to convey the real Portland.
In one scene, Gabby gets boba with her friend Claudia (Trinh Nguyen) on Southeast 82nd. Huge Chevy trucks and 14-year-old Subarus drive next to them as they walk by banged-up trash cans emblazoned with "the Jade District." Personally, as a Japanese-American living in Portland, whose mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother were born and raised here, it's thrilling to see a sincere representation of people of color who live in a city known for its roots as a racist utopia.
"Portland is known as the whitest city in America," Gabby tells Claudia over their boba tea. "But we live here too. And we've always lived here."
SEE IT: The pilot for Gabby Antonio Smashes the Imperialist, White Supremacist, Capitalist Patriarchy! screens at PSU's Smith Memorial Student Union, 1825 SW Broadway, gabbysmashes.com, on Wednesday, March 21. 6:30 pm. $5 suggested donation.