TV Shows, Pop Culture, Interviews

“Amsterdam Ave” shows that following your dreams is scary but always worth it

The must-see upcoming web series explores what it means to be an expat Millennial woman with a big dream.

There’s something irresistibly enchanting about Amsterdam Ave, a brand-new web-series slated to premiere on YouTube in November. At first glance, it seems like a run-of-the-mill story about following your dreams and doing what you love, but Amsterdam Ave’s greatest strength lies in its ability to write beyond that feel-good plotline to create a realistic world inhabited by a diverse cast of sympathetic characters that you can’t help but root for.

The series follows protagonists Maya and Kyran as they upend their lives by switching places across two continents to pursue personally fulfilling careers. Maya is a Dutch-Surinamese girl who lives in Amsterdam with her fiancé Jordi and dreams of becoming “a star”. Kyran is an Indian-American who lives in New York, works in the luxury fashion industry, and wants to be a DJ.

When opportunity calls, Maya and Kyran find each other online and end up switching apartments so Maya can attend the Manhattan Academy of Dramatic Arts and Kyran can take part in a DJ competition in Amsterdam.

Series creators, Dionne Van Den Berg and Pooja Tripathi, who The Tempest interviewed over Skype, said that, in some ways, the lives of their main characters mirror their own. Van Den Berg, like Maya, did move from Holland to New York to become an actress and Tripathi did work in fashion. Kyran’s anxieties about “being in the corporate world forever” were based on “some experiences I saw around me and also my own”, Tripathi tells me.

Two young brown women face the camera with passports in hand. On the right, dark-haired Kyran looks suprised. On the left, brown/blonde Maya sticks her tongue out at the camera. Both women are covered in travel stickers.
[Image description: Two young brown women face the camera with passports in hand. On the right, dark-haired Kyran looks suprised. On the left, brown/blonde Maya sticks her tongue out at the camera. Both women are covered in travel stickers.] Via
But that doesn’t mean that the series is just autobiographical. As I watched the first episode, I was struck by how much of an everyman (or everywoman) tale this was. Maya and Kyran navigate complicated responsibilities; some are gendered – their biological clocks are ticking, for instance, and there is pressure to settle down, and some are economic – a good life is expensive and may need a lucrative career. Other responsibilities are personal and deeply touching – how do you tell a longtime partner that you do love him but will have to leave your country to pursue your dreams?

Van Den Berg says this story is meant to communicate that “there are many different ways of living [our] lives and it’s okay to explore those ways”. Especially, she says, since what’s “expected of a woman” can be stifling.

The series cuts to the heart of what it means to dream – metaphorically and literally. The first episode makes use of dream sequences to communicate wanting something very badly and being afraid to pursue it. I asked the writers why they chose to go that route.

Van Den Berg comments that “a dream can be irrational [and] can be surreal, [so it’s] a nice visual way of showing what’s holding them back”. Tripathi adds that dreams are “so irrational that [the episode] ended up being really funny at times, so it was a cool opportunity to show some humor in the very first episode and we thought ‘this is a way to draw people into their worlds’”.

Tripathi is right to point to humor as a major driving force in Amsterdam Ave. Even when discussing some heavy stuff – like familial expectationsAmsterdam Ave manages to do so in a light-hearted manner that had me smiling throughout the episode. It is to the show’s strength that it utilizes humor and dreams to highlight how absurd our corporate-driven, cutthroat values can be while also putting up family as both a site of refuge and further stress.

If Amsterdam Ave is the story of expats, then family appears as both the people you leave behind and the people who give you the strength to go on. I was curious to know how Kyran’s family was written – how did the creators subvert the usual stereotypes associated with Southeast Asian characters and maintain a realistic depiction?

Van Den Berg says they wanted the show to be different than what audiences usually see on television in that it did understand and sympathize with all sorts of different ways of thinking. “People are multidimensional,” she says. “And yeah the parents are worried about their kids, but they also obviously love them and it is a complicated thing.”

Tripathi explains it’s important to remember that this is an American story. Kyran’s mom isn’t very keen on her daughter being a DJ but that’s not because of some essential Indianness; it’s because she’s worried about her daughter’s financial state in the future.

“When you spend this much money on your kids’ private schooling,” she tells me. “[And] on their university…you want to see a return on value [and] you want to see that your kid is going to be able to support themselves. So, I think [Kyran’s mother’s perspective] is an understandable perspective for a lot of different communities in the US because education is so expensive.”

While Amsterdam Ave keeps the financial and personal realities of many people in mind, it also encourages leaps of faith and different ways of thinking and defining success. Rather than say ‘follow your dreams’, it seems the show says ‘work hard, work smart, and any career can be good and lucrative if you want it enough’.

That’s a pretty realistic Millennial motto.

Amsterdam Ave is expected to launch in November 2019. Updates about the show and advanced screenings can be found here.