‘psusy’ is new zealand’s answer to ‘broad city’
The feminist web series confronts everything from workplace discrimination to female sexuality, with the aim of making young women feel less alone.
Aria Dehar and Jaya Beach-Robertson. Photography Andi Crown.
Every now and then a TV show comes along that perfectly captures the zeitgeist. In the early 2010s it was Girls, followed in 2014 by Broad City, which offered an even more unfiltered take on twenty-something life in NYC and women’s role in the wider culture. But as Broad City’s creators mature, and their scenes become slightly less squirmily out-there, what do we have that accurately reflects young women’s lives in all their frequently funny and occasionally gross glory?
The answer is PSUSY (pronounced “pussy”), a feminist web series that launched its second season on YouTube in November. It follows best friends and low-functioning adults Karen and Sharee as they navigate twenty-something, 21st-century womanhood, and deal with everything from workplace discrimination and fuckboys to periods and the sex industry. The show has a knack for tackling serious contemporary issues in a playful way, skillfully walking the line between the everyday and the absurd, all with the aim of portraying women as the complex creatures they are.
Actor and writer Jaya Beach-Robertson created PSUSY in Auckland, New Zealand in 2016. Born in Seattle, Jaya relocated with her family when she was “nine or ten” to Nelson, a small city in New Zealand which she describes as being “full of stoners, old people, and badly disguised racism.” She moved to Auckland by herself after high school and started taking acting classes, but struggled to find her place in the industry. “I was doing some ads, but I didn’t really see myself getting anything in New Zealand; I didn’t suit the cookie-cutter [style],” she says in her hybrid New Zealand-American accent. “None of the shows really suited me.” So, dissatisfied by “the lack of interesting and diverse roles for women,” she created her own show.
“PSUSY was born out of frustration with the way women were being portrayed, particularly in mainstream media,” Jaya says. “I wanted to break the mold of beautiful, fit women who lived lovely, perfect lives. Women do so much heavy lifting in life and are still expected to appear composed. PSUSY was our answer to this.”
Realizing that her heroes Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson had started Broad City as a DIY web series made creating her own show feel achievable. “I looked at their early stuff and I was like, ‘Oh, this isn’t slick as fuck, but they’re making it work! And they’re not second-guessing themselves and making sure it has to be perfect, because it’s never gonna be perfect.’ Seeing where they started I was like, ‘I can do this.’”
Jaya had never written a script before, but she started “playing around with ideas” and filming them with a friend. “We tacked an iPhone to the windscreen of the car and did scenes in it, and the stories developed from there.”
PSUSY’s storylines deal with diverse topics, so it was important to Jaya to also have a diverse cast. She says, “[It would have been] so easy for me to pick any of my friends who I have good banter with, but I was like, ‘No, that’s too easy.’” She asked Aria Dehar, her coworker at a “backup job,” to play her on-screen best friend, Sharee. Despite having never acted before, Aria is a natural. “I really lucked out there,” says Jaya.
Karen and Sharee’s friendship is the center of the show from the very beginning. The first episode of season one (“Acid Cat”) opens with the two women in a bathroom at a child’s birthday party, putting drugs down their pants (because, as Sharee says, “it’s way faster absorption”). It only gets more gross and weird from there.
The show’s second season saw Anna Duckworth (who has won numerous film awards in New Zealand and the U.S.) join as director, freeing Jaya to focus on writing and acting. Jaya credits Anna with pushing the show’s graphic depictions of female sexuality to the extreme. “She’s like, ‘Let’s get gross! Let’s show all of this!’” In episode three of season two, “Yeast Beast,” Karen grapples with the discomfort of a yeast infection, which leads to a messy masturbation scene. It’s both realistic and squirmy. In a time when some people still consider periods taboo and women’s reproductive rights are being stripped away, these scenes are important.
At times PSUSY gets directly political, confronting New Zealand’s archaic anti-abortion laws and the importance of Maori representation. The episode “I Think The Fuck Not” sees Sharee contend with racism during a job interview. She’s interrogated under a bright desk lamp by two suited men, who demand to know if she has any dependants and whether or not she’s ever received the unemployment benefit. The scene ends with a defiant Sharee standing up and reciting the Human Rights Act. It’s a powerful moment that draws on real experiences. “I asked so many of my friends who are Maori, [Pacific] Islander, and African all about being put into boxes,” says Jaya.
The episode ends with Sharee and Karen in a dimly lit room smashing things. It’s as if all the injustices they’d faced up to that moment drove them to it, and it resonates as an accurate reflection of how many women feel in 2017 — enraged. Jaya says it was intentionally cathartic. “You can’t leave on that tension, you need a release. So I thought, what better way than to smash the shit out of stuff?”
Jaya wants to “take it to the next level” for PSUSY’s third season, and produce longer episodes (in seasons one and two, they average five minutes), so she’s assessing funding options. The New Zealand government funds many locally made web series, but PSUSY has yet to apply. Jaya jokingly calls the show “unfundable.” “I don’t want there to be rules put on it. The whole reason I made this show was to break the rules!”
Creative freedom is crucial in her quest to destroy female stereotypes. “Just seeing yourself reflected on-screen is so important. For example, when I was a kid I thought having a period was super taboo and gross and everyone would make fun of me. But if I saw on some cool TV show one of the characters get her period, maybe that would have made it all right, and I wouldn’t have felt so ashamed to ask my mom to buy pads, you know? There’s so much shame that comes with being a woman, because you’re not taught that it’s okay.”
Jaya says she’s “just trying to put these parts of ourselves, whether they’re periods or female ejaculation, [on-screen]. Even if it just makes one person feel okay about it, or a little bit less alone.” Hopefully you’ll watch PSUSY and not only feel less alone — you also won’t be able to stop laughing.