Dallas writer and director Jerod Couch went from the start of a promising career at ESPN and the Texas Rangers to his lowest point in a short amount of time. He was still old enough to do something about it. He calls it his "quarter life crisis."
If this sounds familiar to you, you're not alone. Millennials even have a term for it: "washed." The word comes from basketball great LeBron James, who once responded to a Twitter post from the L.A. Lakers announcing that he became the first Laker to score three straight triple-doubles in 32 years with the hashtag "#WashedKing."
Even someone at one of the few peaks of personal achievement still feels a need to do better. Couch relates to this idea, even if his career path took him down a road to unemployment and driving a Lyft for extra cash.
"You're too young to just be a dreamer but not too young to achieve those adolescent dreams you had," he says.
Rather than work his way back up the ladder on someone else's terms, Couch decided to make his own destiny by launching his own TV dramedy, #WASHED, a deep, smart show about 30-somethings wrestling with where they are and where they thought they should be when they were younger.
The web series found a spot on Amazon Prime where it released two seasons, the most recent of which is competing for a national Daytime Emmy.
Couch's project has grown to create a cast and crew of 30 people, some of whom are working on a set for the first time.
The first season uses Dallas as a backdrop and another character cast. The show garnered two regional Emmys and an impressive audience for a grassroots television project that utilizes regional talent, including Dallas actor and rapper Byron Hardy, aka B.Hardy, and San Antonio's Nadirah Shakir.
By the time they finished casting only four lead roles for the second season, Couch says 150 actors inquired about auditioning for them.
"It was relatable, especially Season 1," Couch says about the show's audience. "Even in season one, people could see past any misgivings or shortcomings. They saw the realness and relatability and we weren't confined to a studio structure. When folks start meddling in the creative, it takes the personality out of it."
Shows started on YouTube, like Issa Rae's web series Giants and her HBO show Insecure, pushed Couch to pursue his dream and elevate his own game to the best of his financial and physical abilities.
"We stopped calling ourselves a web series because we wanted it to be like a TV series," Couch says.
This attitude pushed him and his crew to find more financing and resources between the two seasons; Couch says it paid off with the final product.
"We approached this as our proof of concept," he says. "This is what we can do with the budget we have. The only way to take a big step forward would have to be money because we kind of left it all on the table. We shot for five months on the weekend because everyone had 9-to-5 jobs, and we even had one 25-hour day because we couldn't afford an AirBnB."
One way Couch found around the complex puzzle of seeking funding (for necessities such as expensive camera equipment), was by focusing his efforts on the acting, framing and even the background.
"If you want movement in a scene, it costs money," Couch says. "You need Steadicams, jibs, and you don't have as many tools at your disposal. My philosophy is make the background more interesting. We're telling stories with other elements."
#WASHED found its audience through every part of its production, especially from its characters who fight the constant, unrelenting pressure to succeed at every level of life. Couch says it's an all too familiar story that even this modern golden age of TV has yet to tackle.
"The way I used to describe it was, at 18, I always had this image in my mind where I'm going to be on my second NFL contract by the time I'm 25 and a millionaire by the time I'm 30 and I wake up at 30 [and] I'm not quite where I envisioned myself," Couch says. "You have that kind of crisis of identity. People can see themselves and are probably in the same condition where it's put up or shut up."
The series follows its characters through more than their work. The pressure to succeed doesn't take time off when they are at home or enjoying an evening at the club. Carmen, one of the show's main characters played by actress and writer Ashlee Lee, feels the pressure to not only keep moving up the corporate ladder but also to start a family, even after she learns of medical issues that could affect her fertility.
"Ashlee thought of that in the writers' room and, after the premiere, one of my good friends text me and thanked me for addressing that," Couch says. "People are seeing themselves in that and they may not have seen it on TV."