This article is a sponsored collaboration between Spectrum and PAPER
In the new Spectrum Originals drama Eden, available now in the US free on demand, forbidden fruit isn't limited to Granny Smiths: there's a veritable bacchanal of pills, powder, gorgeous genderqueer twenty-somethings with daddy issues. And what's even better? The perspective of this story is decidedly femme.
At its core, Eden tells the tale of Scout (Sophie Wilde), an aspiring cellist returning to her hometown after a year training at Juilliard, and her best friend Hedwig (BeBe Bettencourt), still struggling to escape the titular coastal oasis she grew up in, an Australian beach town similar to Christianity's fabled Garden in both beauty and betrayal.
Within Eden's first few scenes, Scout and Hedwig tearfully reunite and stroll along the sand with two things already inescapably clear: Scout is harboring feelings deeper than friendship for her girlie and Hedwig has gotten herself embroiled in some serious shit. A few tiny spoilers: by the end of the pilot, our heroines have taken a bunch of uppers, raged at famed actor Andy Dolan's (Cody Fern's) mansion, and gotten into a screaming altercation after Scout confesses her crush. Shortly following a drug-fueled brawl, the girls disappear into the woods and, the next morning, are declared missing.
From there, the mystery of what's happened to Hedwig and Scout keeps you hooked, as well as the deeper undercurrents of corruption and abuse coursing through this seemingly rosy town's veins. A nefarious drug ring unfolds, bringing in the presence of Keiynan Lonsdale as an inscrutable dealer named Cam.
Eden is structured to focus on a different character each episode, much like the style of Orange Is The New Black or Lost. The series makes great punctuation of images like crashing waves and real estate porn, following the HBO cultural titan Big Little Lies. What sets this program apart from its predecessors, though, is where it chooses to place focus, or more specifically, upon whom: a cluster of palpably horny, androgynous queers.
Series creator Vanessa Gazy has always been deeply interested in writing about sexuality. "I really wanted to look at sexual power dynamics in the show," she says over Zoom from her home in Australia. "If you look at each episode, there's a different approach to a sexual power dynamic playing out."
The approach is refreshing in its frank display of these dynamics between a variety of gender pairings. "Human sexuality is vast and on this spectrum, everyone falls in a different place," Gazy says. "I want to present the world as I believe it is, which is that human sexuality is broad, and that it should be celebrated, and that the more we see representations of sexuality, and celebrate that sexuality on the spectrum, then I think it's going to be better for society and better for the world."
The fluidity shown on-screen extends beyond who's making out with whom. Many of Eden's denizens feel unabashedly genderless, and the costumes (from costume director Lizzy Gardiner) and set design are sumptuous. These islanders don't need labels when a flowing kaftan says it all.
Much of this came post-script, from the costume and casting departments. "Keiynan [is] quite gender-fluid and brought that beautiful magic to Cam," Gazy says, explaining how she still baked some gender diversity into the writing beforehand. "Then there were other characters specifically written as nonbinary. Like the Leander character, played by Christian Wilkins."
Deciding how specific to make each character's description, especially with regards to diversity, was one question Gazy grappled with. "I do think, after having done this, you need to be prescriptive in the writing," she argues. "It's something I've learned. Because once something leaves you as a creator, it goes into production. It goes to a director [in Eden's case Mirrah Foulkes]. If you don't blueprint it into that document, then of course it's going to go in different directions."
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The inclusion of queer characters doesn't feel forced — there's no clunky conversation about who uses she or they and who's a fierce pansexual. Instead, everyone presents however they want and fucks whomever they want. Lonsdale's character, in particular, is an example of an exciting shift toward realistic representation of non-categorizable gender identity and sexuality on-screen. Without giving too much away, we see Cam engage in sex with a man, but we also see Cam sexualized through the eyes of women, and, arguably, vice versa.
Zooming from Los Angeles, Lonsdale explains that his first impression of Cam was someone who "just plays" with their gender presentation. Cam is described as sexually fluid in the writing, but beyond that, Lonsdale was drawn to the part because "he actually did the thing that I wish I was brave enough to do: go and explore spirituality and self and other people that wanted to live in that kind of freedom. He was inspiring to me, his fluidity was exciting to me. I wanted to know more about him."
Building Cam's look throughout Eden was collaborative, according to Lonsdale, who says he "dove in" with the head of costume and director to build a timeline of outfits that felt best for all three. "I don't always get to do that with the director in the room," Lonsdale says. "And I was kind of given free rein to go for it."
That wardrobe includes some shockingly chic circular green sunglasses, layers upon layers of beads and an adorable camel hair bucket hat. "When I first walked in, I wasn't expecting– I thought we were going to be way more stripped back," he says. "I didn't know it was going to be so vibrant, clothes-wise, so I was very excited."
Beyond fashion, Lonsdale left his time on set excited to be part of a cast that reflects the makeup of the country he was raised in. "It felt like a good representation of the Australia I had seen and grown up in," he says. "Australia is one of the most diverse countries in the world. It had been about time that we saw more of that on the screen." Playing Cam was also a fulfilling way to live out Lonsdale's nomadic fantasy and "lifted the veil [of that type of life] in a good way. I walked away feeling stronger as a person because we had a good time despite it being some challenging and gritty work. We were really there for each other."
Eden's gritty material is packed with the trappings of a primetime crowdpleaser: Death, sex, hot youths, drugs wistful stares off cliffs. But the series shines brightest through its focus on the inner motivations of women: what they want, who they want and how far they'll go to get it. Gazy assembled an all-women writing team to bring Eden to life, and that choice is felt in the attention paid to Scout and Hedwig, as well as side characters that otherwise might have been glossed over: The wife of an unfaithful cop, the unsatisfied girlfriend of a complacent screenwriter, the mothers, the caretakers, the real women making up this town, all full of desire, rage and complexity.
Gazy says, "There's a specific tone, a specific way of seeing, that women have... in handling this subject matter which is quite delicate, female, sexual, but from a female perspective. I think it was really important that we found writers who were comfortable with that material and whose voice in the writing was distinctly female, whatever that kind of character is. That sort of intangible character of a female voice."
Through this, Wilde's performance as Scout becomes a grounding force. Her unrequited love — at least on the surface — for Hedwig is painful, raw and relatable. "Over the time [Scout's] been away, she's been nursing these feelings for Hedwig," Gazy says, while Hedwig "has been off on her own journey and barely even had time to think about Scout that much. The crashing together of these two characters is where everything launches from. But then, as we go on, we encounter all these different characters in Eden who have their secret lives and baggage."
Another character, Cora, is visiting the town on vacation with her screenwriter boyfriend. They're granted only one major standalone episode, but the couple's story is compelling — another example of the writers' room nailing a woman with unfulfilled desire. In this case, Cora seems to be seeking more thrill than the man in her open relationship requires. Elsewhere, there are awkward threesomes, covert affairs, threatening advances — a cornucopia of "sexual power dynamics." All of it, ultimately, stemming from Gazy's preoccupation with human behavior.
Her brief to begin creating this world from Executive Producer Bryan Elsley (co-creator of the smash hit British teen drama Skins) was, as Gazy describes it "free and loose," with Elsey asking her to "pitch characters, stories and ideas." Eden was then born from Gazy delving "into various characters in my mind that interested me. And start[ing] to build a world and a town [with] really interesting characters who were put on top of each other in sometimes paradoxical ways."
Gazy grew up in Australia, knowing she wanted to be a writer but never daring to dream of a career in film and TV. "It felt as improbable as wanting to be an astronaut," she says. "I didn't come from that world, it wasn't on my radar." After studying journalism and opting out of that medium, Gazy traveled, feeling lost. During a chance encounter though, Gazy discovered her passion for bringing characters to life on-screen. "I stumbled into this production company [in Paris] and ended up making my first short film there," she says. "I fell in love completely with the craft and with this sense of writing something, but then actualizing it."
It's easy to draw parallels between Gazy's early adulthood wanderlust and where Scout, Hedwig and Cam are in their respective journeys. She allows that aspects of her own experience were certainly drawn from in creating these characters, but also emphasizes that her inspiration is also gleaned from those around her: "[Scout and Hedwig are] parts of people I know, people I was friends with, that particular age when you've just left school, and maybe you're beginning college or maybe you're not," she says.
Her fascination with characters caught in high-intensity situations and emotions will continue in upcoming projects. Next on Gazy's docket: a Netflix series, helmed by Brian Yorkey (13 Reasons Why), about two twins who impersonate each other all their lives until one goes missing. While her resume is certainly stacked with lust and intrigue, Gazy hopes she can convey something more through the entertainment she offers the world.
"What's interesting about now is that it feels like a time of change," she says. "I want Eden to be part of that wave of allowing people to express themselves as they are without fear. I really hope that in this show you feel a celebration of human sexuality."
Eden is now available to binge, exclusively on Spectrum. Watch the trailer, below:
Photos courtesy of Spectrum Originals