Creamerie, a new half hour, 6 episode dark comedy from New Zealand, takes place eight years after a plague kills all the men, when women have had time to rebuild society in their their own image. Alex (Ally Xue) and her sister-in-law Jaime (JJ Fong), who run a local organic dairy farm, and Jaime’s best friend, Pip (Perlina Lau), who works for the mayor, live together peacefully, even blissfully, in a small utopian community modeled on Wellness philosophy. The mayor, Lane (Tandi Wright), is positively evangelical about ensuring the Wellness of her constituents, down to the most intrusive details of their lives.
If this is starting to sound dystopian on the order of Brave New World, you’re on the right track. Creamerie also takes cues from The Handmaid’s Tale, Y: The Last Man (obviously), Mad Max: Fury Road, Stanley Kubrick‘s work and the Wellness industry. Creamerie blends these influences into an unpredictable, wickedly funny send up of the modern world while also leaving viewers with hope for the future.
The comedy, which is streaming on Hulu in the US, was co-created by showrunner/director Roseanne Liang (Shadow in the Cloud) and its three main stars, Fong, Lau and Xue. All four previously created the web show Flat 3 together, which is available on Youtube.
The episode opens on a men’s locker room with Reb Fountain’s cover of What A Wonderful World playing over the scene. As we watch, the helpful ticker at the top of the screen fast forwards through the first 2,920 days of the apocalypse. On day 1, the guys celebrate their team’s victory, until one sneezes bright red blood. By day 14, women in hazmat suits scrub blood from every surface of the room, while outside the men’s bodies burn in a heaping funeral pyre that belches thick black smoke. At day 30, all that’s left of the guys is the funeral pyre, which soon becomes a pile of ashes that then turns into a hill growing grass and a memorial tree.
We’ll always remember you as you were in life, guys, running around on the grass, chasing things.
Fantastic camera work in this sequence, especially the use of the locker room window. Kudos for the exceptional cover of an otherwise overused song and the cheeky paired visuals. This is the first time in a long time that I didn’t mind hearing What a Wonderful World.
Actually, the song hasn’t finished yet. It seems the ladies are getting along just fine without the boys…
Segue into the Wellness community choir, comprised of middle-aged and older women, singing the same song, while a crowd of toddlers and preschoolers cavort in front of them. That’s right, a crowd of baby girls has been born in this small town in the last eight years and the grannies are singing to them.
Turns out that ebola-like virus didn’t cause the end of civilization. It brought an era of peace, harmony and mandatory menstrual leave to the world, along with pregnancy lotteries to gradually distribute the dwindling supply of pre-plague sperm bank deposits.
As the song ends, Alex, the rebel among our three main characters, heckles the performance. Pip, the conformist and approval seeker, who’s drinking a green smoothie, is afraid they’ll get in trouble. Jaime acts as referee. She lost an infant son in the plague and is focused on the lottery, which could finally fulfill her dream of becoming a mother again.
Michelle (Kim Crossman), Lane’s assistant and the conductor of the choir, introduces the mayor. Wrapping her arms around her very pregnant belly, Lane gives an inspirational speech, reminding the women of what they’ve lost, but then listing everything they’ve gained because of
Lane: “The virus may have taken our men, but it will not take our potential. Carpe Futurum!”
The crowds repeats the Wellness motto.
Lane: “Thanks to the goddess, we have seed. Are we not blessed?”
Lane: “Does our past trauma make us weak?”
Alex: “Gullible, yes.”
Jaime can see that Lane and the security guards have had enough of Alex’s outbursts. She tries to drag her friend out, but Alex resists her.
Lane: “One day, through wellness, we will overcome this virus and truly create a brave new world!”
Always helpful when a show directly references the dystopia they want us to compare it to.
Just as Lane triumphantly crows the last line of her speech, Alex flings Pip’s smoothie onto the mayor’s white dress, smearing vomit green goop across her chest. Lane barely blinks before exclaiming, “Be your best, be free!” One of the security guards, Constance (Nikki Si’ulepa), womanhandles Alex into a yoga room for discipline.
Oops, my bad, the room with the inspirational posters, pastel blankets, yoga mats and balls strewn throughout also has cells lining the walls. This is the town jail.
Alex and Constance exchange insults and threats, which any frequent romcom viewer should instantly recognize for what they are- foreplay. Constance shoves Alex up against the wall and they go to town. They are involved in a secret romance, so Alex has to get herself detained in order to be alone with Constance.
Out in the main hall, the winter re-population lottery drawing has begun. Jaime’s number comes up on the second round. She looks overwhelmed, but then happy. Pip and the women who surround them are happy for her.
As they relax on a blanket, Constance asks Alex to go on a weekend get away with her. It’s not her choice to keep the relationship secret. Alex uses a half-joking insult as a deflection. Constance tries to initiate a serious discussion, but another security officer pounds on the door.
Alex persuades Constance to shoot a bliss ball into the base of her neck, hiding their activities from Constance’s coworkers by administering the Wellness punishment for troublemakers. The bliss ball is a timed release drug capsule that will keep Alex in a fugue state for 5 days, allowing Wellness to avoid incarcerating most offenders.
Back on the farm, Jaime finishes talking Pip through her first time artificially inseminating a cow just before Constance brings Alex home. She tells Pip that being part of creating new life like this makes her practically a goddess.
This may not be the best thing to say to someone as impressionable as Pip.
Constance recites the instructions for taking care of Alex while she’s on a bliss ball, but Jaime and Pip already know what to do, since Alex is a repeat offender. She’ll be semi-conscious but mobile for the next 5 days, like a busy toddler in an adult body, requiring constant supervision. The bliss ball takes away Alex’s inhibitions, so while Constance is there and holding her up she’s kinda handsy and babbles about their relationship. Her roomies don’t pay attention.
Before Constance leaves, Pip makes sure to tell her that the crime was all on Alex, even though it was Pip’s smoothie. When she goes inside to help Jaime put Alex to bed, Pip says they’d be better off without Alex. Jaime scolds her, but Pip says it doesn’t matter because she and Alex hate each other equally.
Alex threw a smoothie in order to get time alone with her girlfriend. Pip doesn’t know why she made trouble or that she wanted the punishment, but she does know that Alex handled it without incriminating her friends. Pip’s biggest concern seems to be maintaining her standing with the popular girls.
The next morning, at the fertility clinic, Jaime watches an introductory video on the motherhood process, hosted by Lane. “Sperm is precious. Sperm is rare.”
Sperm is sacred. The pregnancy candidate sitting next to her, who is thin, pale and blonde, just like Lane and Michelle, says this is the 5th time she’s had her name drawn, but she can’t make it past this point in the process. It hadn’t occurred to Jaime that there would be more to the acceptance process than having her name drawn in the lottery.
During her examination, Doc Harvey (Rachel House) is super-impressed with Jaime’s vulva, so her chances for passing to stage 2 look good. They go over Jaime’s pregnancy history (just the one, with her son nine years ago), then the doctor reads her a standard disclaimer. Post-plague, the risk of miscarriage has risen to 50% because none of the male fetuses make it.
Doc Harvey: “It’s not really a baby at that stage anyway. It’s more like a little pink piece of Y chromosome snot. How are your weekly orgasms?”
After dismissing the loss of every male fetus everywhere as simply a nuisance, similar to the world’s attitude toward all of the missing female children in the real world who don’t survive because their cultures prioritize males, Doc Harvey encourages Jaime to work on orgasming three times a week for the Greater Good.
Wonder if they’ve invented female Viagra yet.
Alex wakes up, then takes a minute to convince her body to respond well enough to get out of bed. The little bliss ball is still embedded in her neck, ready to release its magically calming drug for another four days. She left a series of instructional notes to herself throughout the house before leaving for the re-population lottery ceremony the day before, showing just how premeditated her rendezvous with Constance was. Or maybe she keeps these in a drawer and Jaime hung them up after tucking her into bed?The first set of notes tells her to do what the notes say, since she wrote them herself, and to go eat breakfast. Alex doesn’t argue with her note-writing former self.
Pip spills the tray of snacks she’s setting up for a meeting in the mayor’s conference room. She crawls under the table to pick them up just as Lane and Doc Harvey enter. The room appears empty, so they assume their conversation is still private.
Doc: “Lane, do you want quality or do you want quantity?”
Lane: “I don’t want to compromise on you. An abundant future is my top priority. Is it yours?”
Doc: “Yes, but if you don’t…”
Doc steps on a donut hole and stops mid sentence, just when she was getting to the good stuff. Pip bangs her head on the underside of the table, then climbs out and finishes revealing her presence. She encourages the other two women to continue as if she isn’t there. Instead, Lane sends Doc out. Calling Pip “Phillippa”, she asks her to come closer so they can have a conversation. As Pip walks across the room, she corrects Lane on her name, but says it’s okay for Lane to call her whatever she wants. 🤦🏻♀️
I’m no expert in handling mean girls, so you shouldn’t take my comments as advice, but please don’t use Pip as your model either.
Lane calls Pip “Philly” and tells her she loves that she can trust her to do the right thing and keep Lane’s secrets. She pets Pip’s hair as she speaks, hypnotizing Pip with the bright spotlight of her attention. She says her door is open if there’s anything Pip wants to talk about. As others enter the room for the meeting that’s about to start, Lane abruptly turns and rushes to greet Michelle with a loving embrace. Michelle tells Pip to leave the room.
Lane’s affection for Pip will be one of the secrets they share.
When she’s done eating, Alex cleans her teeth, then finds instructions for using a scalpel to remove the bliss ball from the back of her neck- by herself. The bliss ball is against her spine and she can’t even see the area in a mirror, but readers, if we survived Marcy’s self-surgeries on Travelers we can survive this. And so can Alex. She’s clearly done this before- that unexplained metal tank she took a big breath from must have been the anesthetic for the surgery. She cleaned her teeth while waiting for it to take full effect.
I do love an intelligent, efficient character.
Jaime visits the local Playclub for help with her orgasms. After her Playclub worker sets the egg timer for 1 hour, Jaime asks her to break the rules by wearing some of Jaime’s husband Jackson’s clothing, so Jaime can pretend she’s with him. The worker reluctantly goes along with it and appears to be Jackson (Yoson An) for the rest of the scene. One of the garments she wears is the red and black buffalo plaid shirt that Jaime wears everywhere.
Jaime asks Jackson to talk dirty to her by telling her about the chores he did today on the dairy farm. It’s heartbreaking to realize how much she loved her husband and still misses their everyday life together. When she tells Jackson she’s eligible to have another baby and imagines his reaction, the scene appears to veer even further into Jaime’s fantasy world.
Jaime arrives home that evening to find Pip reading a novel called Persuasive Rogue and eating cookies. Perhaps she’s working on her weekly orgasm requirements as well? Since Constance helped Alex out at the jail, that’s all three roomies taken care of for this week.
But oops- Jaime and Pip realize that no one’s checked in with Alex all day and she’s not in the house. The bathroom is drenched in blood, including Pip’s good towel. She’s miffed.
Gotta agree with Pip for once, abusing someone’s good towel like that is a huge roommate offense. Plus the blood-soaked towel was on the floor. On the other hand, Pip came home from work and didn’t even think to check on Alex, so maybe they’re even.
Alex visits her mom, Tilda (Helene Wong), at the long term care facility where she’s lived since the Wellness authorities “permed” her for her own good. Mom has a scar that looks like a small hole in her left temple. She seems nearly catatonic- between that and her scar, it’s clear that Wellness is doing lobotomies and calling it “perming”. She also has a tattoo of the phases of the moon on her inner forearm.
Using a term that normally refers to a process for making your hair stay curled for months as a euphemism for brutally scrambling women’s brains is a particularly diabolical insult to the sacredness of the hair salon. On the other hand, the hair perming process is not actually permanent. Real life lobotomies are, but maybe Creamerie could find a cure?
Alex complains to her mother about her deep unhappiness with Wellness, showing the bliss ball she removed as an act of defiance against the system. Her mom doesn’t react.
As Alex walks home, she leaves swipes of her own blood as graffiti on Wellness posters.
Leaving her blood behind is another pointed act of rebellion. Thanks to the new methods of punishment, mandatory period leave and super positive society, blood, even from menstruation, is rarely seen in public. It’s another kind of inconvenient mess that’s been eliminated by Wellness.
Jaime and Pip widen their search for Alex out to the barns. Pip doesn’t want to bother looking for her until Jaime reminds her that letting one of her friends die won’t be good for her reputation with Lane and Michelle. Then Pip panics, hops in the car and and starts driving in the dark without watching where she’s going.
Jaime gets in and yells at her to be careful. Sure enough, there’s a loud thud and a cry. After Pip stops the car they argue for a second about what exactly happened, with Pip suggesting it was a ghost and Jaime insisting they live on a ghost-free farm. When they feel brave enough to get out and check, they find a body in the grass, but it’s too dark outside for them to distinguish anything else about her.
Pip immediately begins to devise an excuse for how the body got there that doesn’t involve her running over the woman and tries to get Jaime to memorize the story. Alex comes home and joins them, asking what “you guys” did. Pip corrects her use of a trigger word. Now that Alex, the strong one, has arrived, they decide to flip the body over.
But it’s not a woman- it’s a tall, muscular man with a beard. When Pip pulls on his beard to make sure it’s real, he wakes up and grabs her. The screen goes dark just as someone hits him on the head.
The police have been defunded and reformed. Now the community is run by women who relentlessly present themselves as kind and gentle, with everyone’s best interests at heart.
Be careful what you wish for.
In this society, there is no violence, shaming, due process or incarceration for those who require punishment. Just infantilization and bliss. How can you be unhappy with that? If you are, maybe you’re overstressed, and need a break yourself. A few days of bliss should help. If repeated bouts of bliss fail or you’re just too annoying, Wellness doesn’t bother with violence or prison. Instead you’ll be permanently blissed out like Alex’s mother.
New Zealand Herald- An ice pick to the brain: The horror of the frontal lobotomy
I come from a large family of mostly women and spent much of my working life in workplaces with few or no men. Creamerie feels very truthful to me. The Mean Girls/narcissists/Slytherins would rise to the top, using mind control tactics rather than physical violence to maintain their authority at all costs.
Did I mention that terms pertaining specifically to males, such as the words “men” and “guys”, are now cancelled trigger words? Iconography also has a distinctly female tone. I haven’t noticed yet if the ubiquitous leftover phallic symbolism has been removed. I suppose women do still have some use for items in that particular shape.
Is Pip’s romance novel, Persuasive Rogue, which features a muscular male model on the cover and a heterosexual relationship, contraband? Please tell me she’s reading a banned book from the Before Times. I now need a storyline based on Fahrenheit 451 about a group who protect and memorize their secret cache of banned romcoms and romance novels (and even perform the films as plays).
When Lane pets Pip’s hair, she’s illustrating the grooming language that’s peppered throughout their conversation and meant to ensure Pip’s silence. Like many abusers and cult leaders, Lane is all about love bombs followed by veiled but cutting insults.
Despite, or maybe because, of the Wellness push to be positive, the characters are still struggling internally with changes in identity brought about by the plague. In the past, Constance might have been more of an outsider instead of a proponent of the system’s unfair rules, making her someone Alex felt better about dating. I don’t think we’ve been told what Alex did before the plague, but now she seems to feel purposeless and maybe guilty about her mother’s condition, stuck in rebellion and conspiracy theories but unable to find a way to make a difference. She has herself blissed as a way of exploring and processing her mother’s condition, since the drug is a temporary chemical lobotomy, but bliss leaves hazy memories at best.
Jaime was happily married and had an infant, husband and elderly mother-in-law, people who she built her life around. Pip and Alex don’t need her in the same way, leaving her feeling empty. She makes the best of what she has left, since she’s in charge of the farm and is the lynchpin who holds the three women together, but she’s desperate to be a mother again.
Pip is obsessed with becoming part of the popular Wellness crowd, though I suspect she thinks of herself as career-oriented. The only person she’s close to is Jaime. The Wellness authorities exploit her feelings of displacement and inferiority by alternating between giving her hope that she could rise in the hierarchy if she does favors for them and then telling her she’s a disappointment who doesn’t live up to their standards. They’ll never really let her join their clique, because she’s too hungry for approval to ever be trusted with their secrets. And girls like that always have secrets.
Names Lane calls Pip: Phillippa, Philly
The series explores so many topics — feminism, race, and gender, the toxicity of the wellness industry, the policing of women’s bodies. It’s also very funny. What do you hope people take away from the show?
You know that saying, “If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry”? I think we wanted to bring a kind of nihilistic solace into the world. We didn’t want to say, “Everything’s gonna be okay!” like liars, but we also didn’t want to give in to that dreadful feeling of oblivion. The overwhelming desire to NOT sink into a pit of despair is even more urgent after 2+ years of a global pandemic, and unusual humor can be a great way to deal with it. I hope in watching “Creamerie,” people will be entertained, feel uncomfortable, start discussions about power, and find new, not wholly unpleasant ways to cope with the mess we’re in.
After the second lockdown, in the middle of filming, we lost several crew members to other projects. That upheaval made it to the screen: in a certain dinner scene a woman seated next to me is suddenly replaced by another halfway through. Spot the difference.
Images courtesy of Hulu.