Produced and set in Seattle, Northern Belles is a web series that follows the quirky friendship and hilarious misadventures of two millennial women portrayed by Emerald City comedians Isabela de Campos and Maddie Downes. In some ways, it’s reminiscent of Broad City, but with an obvious local angle, and a more endearing and honest depiction of friendship. Among the many highlights of the fantastic series, there’s a talking vagina cookie, a human-banana condom demonstration, and a near-sexual experience with a plumber. It’s the type of show you put on after eating an edible, or when you just want to smile at a hilarious (locally-made) show.
The Stranger is excited to present the exclusive premiere of the newest episode, “Bridesmaid Olympics,” which depicts an American Gladiators-style battle between friends for the dubious reward of becoming the maid of honor at a wedding. You can check it out at the bottom of this post, which also includes an interview with Campos, Downes, and series’ director Christan Leonard about the show and what we can expect next…
What was the genesis of Northern Belles?
Downes: Bela and I met doing a play with the Live Girls! Theater three-to-four years ago. We’d both just started doing standup and we wanted to write something but didn’t have the outlet to get it seen. So, we decided to do it ourselves. We wrote a bunch of different ideas out and began working with a director. Then we picked our six or seven favorite and began the production process.
It’s hard to find people you mesh with so well creatively. What kind of chemistry do you need to complete a project of this scale?
de Campos: I would say the number-one thing is to find people that are understanding. It’s important that your sense of humor bounces off each other well. I think what worked really great for us in the writing process is that we all have different strengths in addition to a similar sense of humor. We all have different areas where we excel.
Leonard: When you spend this long on a project, you can start to drive each other crazy. I see these guys more than my family—just ask my mom. At different points we had issues dealing with the work so we’ve all taken turns steering the ship a bit.
How did you develop a great on-screen friendship?
Downes: I think a strong sense of codependence is really what you want. But, yeah, we just clicked as friends really quickly and we’re really close. During the second phase of production, Bela and I also lived together. So we were up in each other’s lives for a while. When we met during that play, our sense of humor really clicked—when something funny happened, Bela and I would make eye contact from across the room starting on, like, day two. We were really struck by lightening in terms of friendship.
What inspired the bridesmaid olympics plot in this new episode?
Leonard: When I read the outline for the first time, my immediate thought was of American Gladiators from the '90s, which I used to watch with my brother all the time. I really loved the idea of Maddie and Bela fighting it out in a DIY-style American Gladiators competition. But I feel like all the episodes are thematic in their own way.
Downes: The show is a vehicle for jokes so we don’t feel beholden to anything specific in particular. Obviously it’s the same characters each time and we don’t, like, grow wings or anything fantastical like that. But we wanted to make it funny and do a bunch of weird stuff on screen.
Everyone wants to make a cool web series. But what does it really take to make a single episode, let alone a series?
Downes: We very much came from a theater background, so we thought if we had a good script and a can-do attitude, we’d be fine! But then we talked to a producer and a director, and they were like, “Here’s what you really need…” which was money and time and a good director who understands our humor, which we feel lucky to have.
When it comes to making a show about two best friends, how do you orient yours to other programs in a similar vein like Broad City, Seinfeld, or Insecure?
de Campos: With Broad City in particular, I think we knew we’d get a lot of comparisons since both shows are about women best friends. We had a rule where I would watch all the episodes and Maddie wouldn’t so we wouldn’t end up stealing from them, but we’d also know what we might be running into. I think it’s natural when you don’t have that many vehicles—and this is slowly changing—with women in comedy that you get compared to everything since there’s only a limited number of examples. When men enter this type of space, they don’t necessarily get that comparison and they can steal from other shows and nobody notices.
Downes: I worked for two years on it before we shot it. So it changed a lot in that time. Stuff we loved ended up on the cutting room floor. There was a long gestation and we let it become its own thing over time.
What ideas are you trying to explore that you don’t see on other shows?
Downes: I don’t think of this as a theme necessarily, but we don’t look super cute—we look insane in those [gladiator] outfits. Instead, we’re just trying to be good friends to one friend while fighting with another. I think there is a lot of pressure put on being amazing friends in female relationships. Like, they’re portrayed as you having to be the PERFECT friend—that’s often what you see in a show like Parks and Recreation. There’s this higher, divine friendship. But sometimes you act like a stupid child with your friends, which Episode 5 is all about.
Leonard: I think you two do look super cute in leotards, though.
de Campos: I wear mine regularly out to coffee. I just feel like with the World Cup coming up, that needs to be an outfit I wear on the regular.
Where do you hope to go with the series in a year or two?
Downes: Probably HBO! But honestly, that’s an interesting question. I think we would love to keep writing for TV. Hopefully, good work begets more work. So, either individually or together, we’d like to be doing something like this. Obviously, we want everyone in Seattle to see Northern Belles and we hope people enjoy it and it gets its own weird following. But we want to see where it goes. And if people want to help support the show, our PayPal is email@example.com!
Leonard: I’d never seen a web series before I started working on this show. So I’ve learned a lot. Our shows are super long and have a higher production value than many, which makes it more expensive. If someone wants to give us lots of money, that’d be great! But we’re happy to keep writing and make more episodes while balancing our own lives. The idea is just to keep writing.