Where Everything Everywhere All At Once helped break new ground for cinematic representation, and all with a splash of sci-fi absurdity and some washing machines, a newly launched production company in Europe is hoping to do the same for TV. This time, it’s with the help of a magic fridge.
Introducing the independent Amsterdam-based Explorers of the Unfound, set up by partners George Anthony Gottl and Anton van der Linden with a focus on diversity and inclusivity, and the SXSW-bound pilot for its series Marvin.
A quirky, comedy-drama set and shot in the Dutch capital, Marvin follows Dave (Cameron Tharma) and Sam (Sarah-Rose), two young friends struggling with economic anxieties, queerness and substance abuse. Sam — increasingly dependent on the weed she smokes — has been sleeping on Dave’s sofa for over a year. Dave, meanwhile, is battling both a dead-end job and identity issues stemming from being a mixed-race gay son of an overbearing Indian mother. But life-changing assistance — sort of — for the pair comes in the shape of a new refrigerator (soon named Marvin), which manifests their dreams to give them whatever they want.
“It’s like a magical coming out story,” says Gottl, an L.A. native who moved to Amsterdam around 20 years ago while working at Nike (he previously served as the company’s creative director in Oregon).
“Now, more than ever, we need to tell stories about underrepresented groups, and for us, the queer community is something we’re very passionate about. We want to make sure these underrepresented stories are going to get out there and endear them to people. And humor is a great tool for that.”
The pilot was shot, written and edited by van der Linden, whose experience in film has predominantly been in commercials and music videos (he’s shot videos for Limp Bizkit, Headhunterz, Coca-Cola and Bloomingdales to name a few).
“But throughout my career, I always had these little narratives and quirky characters, and then when COVID hit, I had all this time, so started writing this series,” he says. Eventually, the ideas morphed into what would become Marvin, with van der Linden drawing on his own experiences of growing up “ashamed of being gay” and also substance addiction. “It just evolved into this big coming out story and discovery of self-identity,” he says.
The 20-minute pilot for Marvin — screening as part of SXSW’s Independent TV Pilot Program alongside six others — is more of a proof of concept than final product, aimed at showing the industry what Explorers of the Unfound can deliver.
“It’s also really just to create a vibe to show the comedy and the friendship between the characters,” says van der Linden, who adds that — should the show get picked up — there are plans to include more scenes highlighting both Dave and Sam’s backstory.
Alongside normalizing queer stories on screen, part of Explorers of the Unfound’s central mission according to the two founders — as the company name suggests — is to find and support young talent. To cast Marvin, they turned to Instagram, drawing from hundreds of videos (for Sarah-Rose, the show marks her first screen credit), while there was a very small and young team behind the camera (including a 21-year-old technician in charge of the lighting).
While Marvin may be the first out of the blocks, both Gottl and van der Linden have another TV concept in the works that they can’t yet discuss. But they claim there are already interested parties (and apparently there have been discussions with Paramount about taking Marvin to series). And although TV is their primary focus, they say they wouldn’t be averse to film.
“But I don’t think in the traditional way of the big screen necessarily,” says Gottl, who explains that the main aim is for their content to be watched anywhere and on all platforms, with the hope of creating stories that draw the attention of the youth audience and other digital natives “raised on TikTok and inundated with media.”
But whatever they do, it’ll all follow the company’s ethos.
“We want to tackle very serious issues in a very human way, with laughing and crying, like life,” says Gottl. “And our mission, as the explorers of the unfound, is really to look for people that have not been found yet and hopefully bring them to the forefront.”