A new aspirational romantic comedy charts a woman’s adventures with love and farm-to-table tomatoes. “Heirloom” is an original digital series co-created by actress Paten Hughes and loosely based on Hughes’ own experience planting her very own Northern California organic tomato farm.
“The whole way the story came about was that I did stumble into organic tomato farming,” explains Hughes of the fortuitous set of circumstances – a piece of property she owns in Sonoma, a garden just begging to be planted, and a movie project that unfortunately fell apart at the last minute – all of which led to Hughes' backyard tomatoes accidentally becoming favorites of some of her local farm-to-table restaurants.
“I flew back to New York for a Shakespeare play, and without me knowing it (my friend Edith) kind of snuck into the garden and took some tomatoes and brokered a deal with Charlie Palmer's Dry Creek Kitchen, and so that first year off of six tomato plants I made $900, just completely accidentally,” she explains.
She was inspired by the people that she encountered and the adventures that growing and selling organic tomatoes created, and “Heirloom” was born.
Hughes says that the series, which is made up of nine ten-minute episodes, all available on Vimeo, and was jointly developed with TV writer Bekah Brunstetter and director Michael Melamedoff, is about fifty percent autobiographical.
“In an effort to tell the best story, and really hit as strong of a vein with our generation of millennial women as possible in the most authentic way, we made the story a little bit more fictionalized and took liberties with creating a world that we really believed in and wanted to promote,” she says.
In this world, Hughes plays Emily, an actress based in New York whose uncle leaves her a California tomato farm when he passes away.
Of this fictionalized part of the story, Hughes says, "We were trying to build up on the theme of inheritance and what it means to be given something that you're then in charge of taking care of and growing,” she explains.
Emily’s adventures in tomato farming are supported by the characters of Raoul (Luis Vega) and Lynn Brown (Tom Wopat), both based on real people that Hughes has encountered on her own tomato-growing journey. The latter is a renowned Northern California farmer credited with reintroducing arugula to the state of California in the '70s and providing all of French Laundry's produce. The series also features Hughes’ own tomatoes and some of the chefs with whom she works.
"Heirloom" has already grown popular amongst online viewers, reaching two million views just a few weeks ago. It’s not hard to see why: Emily is a sympathetic main character whose challenges, from meeting new friends to developing a green thumb, are accessible. Her challenges in love are refreshingly ordinary: she shares an apartment with a long-term boyfriend who, while a bit haggard by New York and his life as a starving writer who edits to pay the bills, is good and sweet to Emily and encourages her in her dream of acting. Her decision to leave him behind in order to live out her dreams is relatable and refreshingly complex.
While the writing is generally excellent, many of the characters -- Emily especially, have a repetitive tendency towards externalizing interior monologue, especially to close a scene. This is a shame, as most of the time, the audience has already been clued in to the inner workings of Emily, despite the absence of dialogue in some of the earlier episodes, which does an excellent job of portraying Emily’s loneliness.
The series ends on an inevitable cliffhanger, leaving the viewer wanting more, something that Hughes hopes to deliver.
“We're feeling a strong sense of responsibility, especially considering that we left on a cliffhanger,"says Hughes, "so we're working hard to figure out the next best step for Heirloom and to try to keep telling the story.”