Tony DeSantis was born and raised in the east end of Montreal, Quebec. He grew up in a predominately Francophone neighbourhood but his Italian parents managed to maintain family traditions while assimilating into Canadian society. It is perhaps this unusual Franco-Italo-Canadian upbringing that provided the fodder for his most recent web series, the absurd yet entertaining, Boombats.
To create a successful comedy web series, you have to be a genius or mad, and a bit of a magician. It’s an incredibly difficult and challenging niche to master. You have to grab the viewer in a very short amount of time. You have to deliver the cinematic look and sound that audiences are accustomed to, but with a micro budget and calling in a lot of favours. The creative team has to wear many hats and actors must pull every ounce of vanity out of their skin and surrender to the role entirely. The writing has to be sharp and hilarious. The storyline must be uncomplicated and succinct. It has to be simple because… Internet audiences simply don’t have time.
Boombats cleverly hits all those marks and is a shining example of how a web series can touch every aspect of the human condition and do it all in under 10-minute episodes. The series was created and written by ex-Montrealer Tony DeSantis who also produced and co-stars, and is joined by some of Canada’s top actors and familiar faces, making this character-driven dramedy a true ensemble outing.
Set in Toronto’s Little Italy, the story revolves around Bobby “Boombats” Battali who, on the outside, appears to be a bumbling, underachieving loser and dumpster fire. Indebted to the mob, Bobby needs to find a way to pay back the money quick and he decides to create his own one-man operation, “Odd-Job Bob.” Quite simply, the idea is that people hire him to do odd jobs, and this lays the groundwork for the rest of the series. His enthusiastic announcement is met with the usual opposition from those who know him and his record of failure all too well. Judging by the tone of the series, the jobs in future episodes will probably lean heavily on the “odd.”
The opening scene begins in a sketchy room, with Bobby being shaken down by the mercurial Mrs. Scrota, a mob boss that can only be described as a 60-year-old version of Snooki from the “Jersey Shore.” Maria Vacratsis (Mama Mia, My Big Fat Greek Wedding) is a joy to watch as the intimidating and sexually repressed mob boss who hints at how Bobby can pay back the 50 grand he owes her. Will there soon be an entry for “Boy-Toy” in his résumé? In the first three episodes and in a very short amount of time, the characters and relationships and all their eccentricities are introduced and become reason enough to watch Boombats.
Ron Lea (Orphan Black) beautifully plays Bobby’s closeted and more successful older brother Lorenzo, the apple of his mother’s eye. Lorenzo is the conflicted, career “bachelor” and takes comfort in the shelter provided by his overprotective and hilarious Italian mama. He knows how to push Bobby’s buttons and it doesn’t take much to reduce them to six-year-olds, competing for Mama’s attention and sparking ongoing brotherly feuds. Lea (another ex-Montrealer) also serves as the series executive producer and co-director.
On paper, Bobby Boombats is an unlikeable character with few redeeming qualities. He’s a slob and a chronic gambler who’s always broke and is drifting apart from his teen-aged daughter. He chooses the path of least resistance, always in search of low hanging fruit. However in the capable hands of Tony Sciara, Bobby is hilarious and lovable in his sad-sack ways. Sciara does a worthy job of injecting this character with humour, vulnerability and compassion. These are the kinds of roles actors wait for and his subtle brilliance behind every word and action does not go unnoticed. I often got teased for being slightly attracted to James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano. Strangely enough, Bobby “Boombats” Battali’s aura stirs up those same feelings.
Throughout all the dysfunction in this family, there remains one constant that is firmly grounded in reality. The father-daughter relationship between Bobby and his teen-aged daughter Gabby will ring true for many viewers. Nicole James as Gabby demonstrates the right amount of angst, alienation and self-absorption that is all too common in today’s youth. Her iPhone is her lifeline to the outside world, providing an escape from the insanity of her overbearing and eccentric family. But under all the bickering and yelling lies a firm foundation of love and caring which is at the heart of it all.
Tony DeSantis gives a tour-de-force performance as “Nonna,” the deeply religious and worrisome matriarch of the Battali clan. A man playing the role of a woman can be frowned upon and controversial, especially in this day and age. The famous roles of Mrs. Doubtfire, Tootsie and Christine Baskets are renowned, but those cases are few and far between. It’s a fine line between embodying a role verses mocking it, but DeSantis’ Nonna treads carefully, joining that list of successful and unforgettable female characters. It’s easy to get lost in her hilarity, her smothering motherhood and the expressions that come out of her mouth. DeSantis lets the subtleties of the character paint his performance, a sideways glance, a nervous smile, and the shuffling steps all help in convincing us that we’re watching an elderly woman.
The remaining cast members deliver rock-solid performances especially Precious Chong as Janessa, Michael Miranda as the secretive Father Romano, Dan Lett as Billy “Flash,” Alia DeSantis (yes, Tony’s daughter) as Angie, the unpredictable neighbour and Yatharth Bhatt as Gabby’s schoolmate/crush.
Keeping it in the family, DeSantis has chosen a soulful song entitled “Red Blues,” written by his son Gabriel, as the show’s theme song. The melancholic horns nicely reflect the slightly off-kilter mood and tone of the series. Rounding out directorial duties are Matt Birman and Bryan Kowalsky.
Boombats may not be a ground-breaking series or terribly original for that matter, although DeSantis promises future episodes will deal more with challenging issues related to the immigrant experience. But for now, the writing and quirky characters succeed in leaving a lasting impression and you are left wondering what will happen next.
I am New Zealand woman, living in Toronto, Canada. I mostly write about women directors and writers in the film industry. Being a woman, I certainly cannot relate to an Italian man being hustled by the mob and living in a crazy dysfunctional family, but I can empathize. This is all that art needs to achieve from its audience to be successful. It can take viewers, from any walk of life, immerse them in a room with the Battali family and soon they will feel like they are part of this ongoing and beautiful insanity. There are many rabbit holes in Nonna’s backyard garden. What a joy it is to get lost in one.