‘Rent Check,’ evokes anxieties and dreams of growing up in the Bay

Comedian Mike Evans Jr.’s new web show “Rent Check” shows today’s San Francisco from the perspective of a native. (Courtesy Mike Evans Jr./Surge Media Collective)

In his new web series “Rent Check,” comedian Mike Evans Jr., a San Francisco native, tells stories about how onerous it is just to get by in the place he grew up. 

“There’s something magical about the Bay. There’s a lot of beautiful, diverse ideas and perspectives in San Francisco. But there’s a false reality,” he says, having to do with urban displacement. To newcomers who say, “I want to change this. I want to put my store here, I want to move these people out,” he asks, “What culture do you expect to still be here if you’re trying to push s— out?” 

Premiering on YouTube this week, “Rent Check” follows a fictionalized version of Evans and his large web of friends and collaborators in 12 episodes as they cope with, well, just about everything. Co-directed by organizer and multimedia artist Jules Retzlaff and produced by Jill Hill and Analissa Aguirre, “Rent Check” adds to a growing body of productions featuring the Bay Area’s brand of magical realism, with quixotic, absurd tales and conversations, sometimes facilitated by substances.

Mike Evans Jr.’s web show “Rent Check,” which includes elements of magical realism, is based on his experiences in San Francisco. (Photo by Nick DeRenzi)

To name just a few tidbits: There is a kind imploring to do shrooms with your mom; the catharsis and distraction of self-induced pleasure (don’t worry, it was just Greek yogurt!); and candid discussion of political apathy, climate change, racism and gentrification while buying weed in the back of a car.  

“I remember all three of us [producers] reading it, and just dying of laughter the whole time—it was just immediately fantastic,” says Retzlaff.

“In San Francisco right now, there’s this narrative of high crime…[but] when I think about the city, about what we are, the spirit of the Bay is still here. Playing with magical realism, it’s the only way to have actual true conversation.”  

Evans and Reztlaff met in school and later reconnected through organizing in the wake of Mario Woods’ killing by San Francisco police. They took the plunge into full-blown television production easily, being members of the independent Surge Media Collective, a community- funded artists’ group and production house. Not beholden to the whims of large studios and corporations, they didn’t have to appeal to those who aren’t their intended audience, and got to make “Rent Check” on their own terms. 

“What really made making this show special was Mike wrote his friends,” says Retzlaff. “He did really intense rehearsals with everybody that shaped the characters and opened up improv for folks to add on to their characters. When we were on set, the whole crew became part of shaping the direction of the show.” 

Jules Retzlaff, left, and Mike Evans Jr. co-directed “Rent Check,” a 12-episode web series set in San Francisco. (Photo by Jon Harrison)

““Rent Check,” like “Blindspotting,” “Sorry to Bother You” and “Last Black Man in San Francisco,” is a work that conducts surgery on the Bay Area local’s brain, reconciling the outsider’s impression of the Bay with those that live it every day. It’s no accident that these projects stem largely from Black natives, who for generations have witnessed the soil they’ve laid for art, language and culture uprooted, replanted and sucked dry.  

San Francisco and Bay Area kids will recognize certain sights in ‘Rent Check,” reminisce about memories on specific corners, and perhaps catch a glimpse of someone they know.  

“There’s this thing in society where you need clout, you need the likes, you need a network to validate you,” says Evans. “There’s something special about the community saying, ‘Hey, we want this.’ I want that for so many people, because there’re so many talented people here in the Bay that don’t get the love they deserve. I want more grassroots projects to pop off!” 

The orgins of “Rent Check” go back to 2019, when Evans, who enjoyed writing stories since he was in elementary school, wrote a teaser for the show. Filmed and later uploaded to YouTube just weeks after George Floyd’s murder, it gave inklings of what more there was to come.  

“In 2020, I definitely felt the world was ending,” says Evans. It prompted him to make good on a promise he made to himself as a kid—create a TV show.    

“Coming out with that video and people’s responses made me feel like, ‘Oh, you understand what I’m trying to say. You understand my messages.’ It’s not going to be 100 percent funny. There’s going to be serious conversation as well,” he says.  

Following the May 18 drop of the first “Rent Check” online, additional episodes are being released one per week until the series is complete. 

Evans and Retzlaff have toyed with what season two will look like, but for now are enjoying bestowing season one onto the Bay and the world. Fans also may want to check out a sci-fi/horror/comedy short film starring Evans: “Kill Your Landlord” by “Rent Check” executive producer Jill Hill, with assists from Retzlaff and Aguirre, is set for release later this year. 

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