Web Series 'Heirloom' Serves Up Self-Exploration With A Side Of Tomatoes

A story of growth in various forms.

Sometimes, to get a little perspective in life, you need a change of scenery.

For Emily, the heroine of a charming Vimeo Web series called Heirloom, that change takes her from a life of unfulfilling auditions in New York City to her late uncle's Wi-Fi-less farm in Sonoma, Calif. Over the course of nine episodes, her idea to start a tomato garden ripens from a bare patch of dirt to a juicy new business. In the process, she finds happiness, romance, and ambition.

Heirloom explores the types of questions many of us ask at various points in life: Who am I? Where do I belong? What should I be doing? Who am I meant to be with? And does any of it really matter? Emily finds herself torn between different answers to these questions throughout the series, something a lot of viewers will undoubtedly relate to. 

When Emily arrives in Sonoma, she's a fish out of water unsure of what she's gotten herself into. "I don't know where I am," she says early on, and it feels just as much a philosophical quandary as a physical one. At the same time, she's unsure of which career path to follow and seems hesitant to plant roots anywhere other than her garden. Adding to this bicoastal push-and-pull is her relationship with her boyfriend Roger (John Lavelle), who chooses to remain in New York.

For series co-creator and star Paten Hughes, Emily's story serves as a reminder that we shouldn't allow others to define us — even the people we're closest to. "I hope that we've underlined the importance of having your own life outside of your family or relationship," she tells A Plus. "I think it's so key to a happy and sustainable life in which you feel free and appreciated for who you are."

This is illustrated in a meaningful scene between Emily and her mother Nancy (Margaret Colin), written by co-creator Bekah Brunstetter. Things are starting to look up for Emily, but she feels guilty for being away from Roger. "Would you say you're only ever happy if Dad's happy?" she asks her mother. "Like you live your life in terms of him." As an example, she brings up how her mother has stopped eating white chocolate because her husband dislikes it. Nancy shrugs it off, but nevertheless urges Emily not to follow her lead: "If you're happy right now, you shouldn't have to apologize for it."

"Just like you stop eating white chocolate because your partner doesn't like it," says Hughes, "I think there is a danger to stop doing other things that fulfill you just because your partner doesn't enjoy them, too. We get lazy with ourselves. And suddenly it's been a decade since you've had white chocolate and the taste is as unfamiliar as the person you've become. It's so important to guard your strengths, talents, and passions, and be accountable to yourself for engaging with them regularly. Otherwise, you lose yourself the same way you lose your fluency in a language if you don't speak it."

Of course, in order for individual identity to blossom, there are often compromises to be made, especially where long-distance relationships and competing career opportunities are concerned. Those conflicted feelings of identity come to a head at the end of the ninth episode, when Emily is faced with more than one big decision about who (and where, and with whom) she wants to be.

In real life, Hughes was able to have her tomatoes and eat them, too. After a movie role fell through, the actress turned to growing and selling tomatoes from her and her fiancé's property in California. This experience, born of disappointment, ended up being a huge positive in her life, as it became the inspiration for Heirloom — and a great new role. As for deciding where Emily's story would differ from her own, Hughes says, "I think those instances just sort of chose us."

If you're ready to know whether things will work out for Emily the way they worked out for Hughes, she says she's "eager to keep telling the story." Meanwhile, she hopes the series will be an impetus for viewers to find and chase a few delicious dreams of their own. Heirloom is, after all, described as "an aspirational romantic comedy," which Hughes credits to the show's director, Michael Melamedoff. 

"It was a strong distinction for us, as it's a close cousin to the word 'inspiration.' Inspiration feels more about making someone think or feel uplifted or encouraged," she tells A Plus. "If you Google the word, however, you'll find that aspiration is an ambition to achieving something. We very much hope that Heirloom is a call to action for our audience. Whether that be making your own work as an artist, or growing your own garden, or taking a chance on a life path you hadn't considered before. Or, let's be honest … even just chomping into a tomato."

Hughes notes that there's also a second meaning which fits just as well with the series' aims — the action of taking a breath. "I think that a lot of us in our 20s go through a period where you just need to take a time out, take a breath, take a moment to reflect."

And maybe consider spending that moment watching Heirloom. All nine episodes are currently available to stream on Vimeo.

All images via Vimeo

Check out more of Paten Hughes' insight into the "Heirloom" story: