Merce, the award-winning, HIV-positive musical comedy web series, returned January 21 for its second season.
Co-produced by Charles Sanchez and Tyne Firmin, Merce is beloved for its MGM classic film ethos mixed with potty mouth flair. Audiences can enjoy eight new episodes, each with its own, elaborately choreographed, original musical number.
“Audiences can expect a whole lot of laughter, potty humor, singing, dancing, glitter, rainbows, eye candy, and HIV education,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez and Firmin were inspired to create Merce to put the HIV community in a more positive light.
“As far as any major media or television productions, there is very little modern HIV content,” Sanchez said. “Where there is, it’s either a history lesson from the AIDS crisis, a modern-day story where a sad violin is playing in the background, or it’s a very special episode in the series. I felt like that wasn’t my experience. No one in my life, neither my friends nor I who are living with HIV, are walking around with a sad face all the time. We wanted to show an opposite point of view of a modern story of HIV where someone wasn’t sick or dying. Where someone was living a full life and dating and had a crazy family and friends. Let’s go 100 percent the opposite and change the idea of what you think of when you see someone living with HIV.”
In addition to writing and producing, Sanchez plays the show’s title character while Firmin shines alongside him playing Merce’s outrageous Southern Mama.
“I think in a lot of ways, Merce is me if I had no filter and was completely unapologetic about my homosexuality,” Sanchez said. “As a child, I hid that and didn’t start coming out until I was in my mid 20s and early 30s. I started to really come out because I was uncomfortable in my own skin. Merce is completely unapologetic about how fabulous he is and is just as gay as you can be. He tends to find the light in things, and he is most disappointed in himself when he doesn’t, when he finds an occasion to feel sad and can’t find the sunny side and must reach out and ask for help.”
All the series favorite characters are back, but this season will introduce some exciting, new characters like judgmental Aunt Bless, Lisa (with an S) Minnelli, and a smattering of titillating Eye Candy Boys.
Sanchez said Season One was received very well by audiences and hopes Season Two will do even better.
“We have a small-but-mighty following,” he said. “The interesting thing with doing a web series, I think a lot of web series have a similar thing. It’s like spaghetti. You throw it against the wall and see what sticks. That was sort of our experience with the show. We were just kind of flying blind, but we did get picked up by OUT TV in Europe, which was an exciting thing to happen to us, and we won some awards along the way. That was unexpected and lovely, and that is one of the reasons why we deiced to do a season two. We thought about what we can build on, and how we can make this go further.”
Although Merce is intended to entertain audiences with its hilarious hijinks, the show also manages to dive into some hot-button issues impacting today’s HIV community such as PrEP, slut shaming, gay marriage, serodiscordant relationships (where one person in the relationship is living with HIV while the other is not), and U equals U (Undetectable equals Untransmittable), a worldwide campaign that shined a spotlight on recent scientific evidence that proves those with an undetectable viral load pose zero risk of transmitting HIV.
“HIV is not sexy like it used to be,” Sanchez joked. “There is a lot about HIV in the modern world that is not talked about. It doesn’t get the new coverage like it use to. I think the last big, HIV news story was Charlie Sheen. We don’t hear about HIV stories, or the fact that people are living with HIV, and that PrEP is effective, and how we are going to end the epidemic. These things are important. Comedy is a great educational tool, and we want people to take away some information or at least strike up some curiosity about it. We have a page on our website that is a resource for education and community outreach.”
Sanchez and Firmin also hope to convey the message that living with HIV is not a death sentence, and that people should live their lives authentically. Being your true self is most important, and others should look past their HIV status.
“We hope that people sort of forget that Merce has HIV,” Sanchez said. “That he’s just a regular guy. A crazy, funny character. That HIV is not the most important thing about him. We hope audiences will find this show funny and enjoy it because of how broad and crazy it is.”
Will there be a Merce Season Three? Sanchez hopes so.
“We have thought about it,” he said. “I have thought about pursuing HIV criminalization. There are so many laws that are outdated when it comes to HIV, and it is so easy to accuse somebody. You know, a witch hunt. HIV is the only physical illness that has been criminalized in the modern world. So, I thought perhaps Merce can be a lawyer in Season Three, and he will go down South where the epidemic is raging and defend somebody against HIV accusation. Of course, we will make it a musical, and it will be hilarious.”
Merce can be watched on Vimeo, YouTube, and MerceTheSeries.com. For more information and to stay up-to-date, follow Merce on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter at MerceTheSeries.