The Booth at the End

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There isn’t much to explain about the premise of The Booth at the End. A weird, nameless dude sits in a booth — at the end — in a diner and gives people cryptic assignments to complete in order to obtain things they want. It’s like The Wizard telling Dorothy to kill the witch, whom she’s never met and has no beef with, in order to go home.

Booth is a Hulu original series, but the episodes run the length of an ordinary televised show. That’s probably a bit long for a series of basically all bottle episodes. Continue reading

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Untitled Web Series About a Space Traveler Who Can Also Travel Through Time

“This is the best show I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” is what Abed said when he saw his first thirty seconds of Inspector Spacetime. If he was impressed with that, he should see Travis Richey’s Untitled Web Series About a Space Traveler Who Can Also Travel Through Time. For starters, the production values are much better. And if you think that the low production values are what gives Inspector Spacetime its charm, don’t worry — you won’t be starved for camp. Continue reading

Battleground

UPDATE: 7/22/12 I wrote the analysis below having only watched the first episode of Battleground. I don’t usually approach these posts as recommendations for or against watching a show. Having now completed the first season, I say “Watch it. Watch it now.” This is one of those shows that the pilot does not do justice to until you can appreciate it as part of the larger picture.

For example, some of the stuff that makes you scratch your head in the pilot (like just when are these interviews supposed to have been recorded, and what the hell is Cole wearing?) are ambiguous on purpose. The final episode has me dying for season 2.

 

If you happened upon the pilot episode of Battleground, you might think you were watching a documentary. For a few minutes at least, Battleground defies the obvious comparisons to Parks and Recreation or The Office. As mockumentaries go, this one opens on a more serious note. There is a film-like look about it. Amber waves of grain and small hometown businesses flavor the opening credits. It’s a bit like the tour of Scranton that opens The Office, but without the underlying sense of sarcasm. Then… we meet Jordan T. Mosley, the show’s Dwight Schrute. But I’ll come back to him. Continue reading

The Writers Room

I thought a post on the original Crackle series The Writers Room would be a nice complement to my last post on 30 Rock. The Writers Room, which debuted in 2008 is what you would get if you distilled 30 Rock down to just the scenes in the writer’s room and shot it with a handheld camera. And took out all the humor. No, I’m kidding. Sort of. But there is an episode of Louie, where a group of writers has been gathered to doctor a screenplay, which packs more humor into 2-3 minutes that this web show exhibits in its whole pilot. I’m sure that its writers would say that’s because I just don’t get it.

The scribes of the web series work for a sketch comedy show hosted by Kevin Pollack (as himself). You may not know the name Kevin Pollack, but you’ve seen him. See? An interesting twist of this is that all of the writers play themselves. Continue reading

Bloomers

Bloomers is a web series, set in contemporary L.A., which debuted a couple of weeks ago. You can watch the episodes that have aired thus far here.

The pilot introduces all seven members of the ensemble cast, though the one we get to know best is Francesca (Fernanda Espindola), a fashion designer. Fancesca comes off like an uber-bitch, but we’re able to forgive her in short order when we learn she’s not feeling so well. Her mid-day barf break ends with her hand resting on her lower abdomen–TV shorthand for “Oh shit, I’m pregnant.” Continue reading

The Guild

So I’m sitting at Comic-Con singing along to Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog and loving Felicia Day in spite of her questionable singing ability and thinking “How the hell have I not blogged about The Guild“? (Felicia even stopped by to say hi and thank the fans–she’s adorable.)

In case you’re not familiar, The Guild is a web series that’s been running since 2007, about a group on online gamers. It was created by Felicia Day, previously known in the Whedonverse as Vi on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

We meet our heroine as she’s having a bad Friday night. She’s sitting at home alone, unemployed, and having not left the house in a week and recently dumped by her therapist. What we quickly realize, though is this is pretty much a normal Friday night for her.

In this 4-minute episode, titled Wake-Up Call, we have just brief introductions to protagonist Codex and the other players in her guild. We flash back to the phone conversation Codex had wherein her therapist dumped her. As the therapist accuses her of lacking motivation to conquer her addiction, Codex fumbles with the computer, participating in a heated guild run. The game is not named but we assume it’s World of Warcraft. (It probably helps to be a gamer, but you don’t have to be one to get the show.)

Each of the other four players is seen in turn, and the show does not shy away from gamer sterotypes. There’s an overweight woman who’s neglecting her kids, an unattractive guy who eats constantly, a skeevy younger guy who weaves sexual innuendo into all conversation, and a perky Asian girl accessing the web on multiple devices at once. One guy, however, is missing, and we’re about to find out why.

It doesn’t take long to realize that this group of disparate warriors is closeknit in a way that only people who have never seen each other can be. “I hear them. It’s good enough for the blind,” Codex tells her therapist. This is the perfect example of this show’s wry style of humor.

However, the line that really sums up our heroes’ situation comes a couple of episodes later: “You can’t log off of your own life.”

The Guild, in many ways, set a precedent for web TV, employing strong writing, production values, and acting, while catering to a niche audience. Here’s an interview Felicia did about the show early in its run.

Pilot-y Tidbits from Comic-Con

H+

This new web series, produced by Bryan Singer, was teased to minimal fanfare–actually, lumped together in a panel with Mortal Combat: Legacy–but it looks highly promising. The premise is that a good chunk of the world’s population has been tied into some futuristic version of the internet, where information is downloaded straight to your brain. Due to a glitch, a third of those people have dropped dead. Those remaining are left to figure out what the frak happened. Here’s a trailer.

What sounds cool about this series is, you will be able to view the episodes (48 total) in the order of your choosing, organizing them by character, chronologically, or geographically. This approach capitalizes on the uniqueness of the medium, rather than just creating a show as one would for television and throwing it up on the web.

Effin With Tonight

This animated series created by former Tonight Show writer Jim Shaughnessy is set to launch on the web at Crackle.com. They screened a clip and it looks pretty damn funny. It stars Patrick Warburton (The Tick, Family Guy, Venture Bros., etc., etc., etc. This guy is in everything.) as well as Joe Cipriano (the voice of Animation Domination). It’s basically an animated late night talk show that parodies everything that Shaughnessy despised about his old gig. And, in the panel, he made no bones about how much he hated it. They’re hoping to take it to a network, but I can see it being about as successful as the equally irreverent and highly underrated Sit Down, Shut Up.

Writing for TV

This was just a random tidbit I picked up in a panel on writing genre TV. It used to be you needed to write spec scripts of existing shows to break into writing. Now, according to the panelists, there is more demand for scribes who have written their own pilots. Still no solid advice on how the hell you get that script into the hands of anyone who gives a damn, but one writer had an interesting story about how she wooed Joss Whedon.

Archer

This was not a pilot, but the first of three-part story arc that will run this September. It was too awesome not to mention. This mini-story takes our hero, “Duchess,” out of his usual surroundings at ISIS and places him on the high seas, and introduces a new character, played by–you guessed it–Patrick Warburton. There are pirates. ‘Nuff said.

Partial or complete pilots of a number of other shows were screened during the Con, including Terra Nova, Alcatraz, Person of Interest, The Secret Circle and Locke & Key. Reviews and opinions abound so I won’t rehash. But the fall season is looking up.

Ark

The pilot of this web series functions like a cold open would in a television series. You can barely call it a set-up. We see a character in a situation, and just as we get a wider angle—literally and figuratively—it’s over. The protagonist, whose name as far as we know, is “Mom,” is dozing on a couch in a messy living room. Her child is operating a handheld video camera while trying to wake her up, but she shoos him away. Then, somehow, she is inside a container not much bigger than a coffin. Saying any more would be a spoiler. As a pilot, this is light on exposition, big on suspense; great combo.

IKEA Heights

Sometimes a new show is wonderful just for its weirdness. Just hearing the background of IKEA Heights  (created by Channel 101) got me saying, “must watch!” A group of young, enterprising filmmakers and actors shot a mini soap opera for the web in IKEA. Genius! You’ve got all your sets right there: bedrooms, kitchens, a restaurant. The best part however, is that they did it during regular business hours without IKEA knowing what was going on. They’re already my heroes. This may or may not have been inspired by a scene in 500 Days of Summer, but it’s pretty original.

The show begins where any melodrama should; in bed. A couple wakes up, they have some words. The words aren’t that important. There’s some tension in the relationship, blah, blah. The important thing about the scene is to get your head around the setting. The guy is in his clothes. The lighting is awful. There’s one of those signs on the bedside table telling you how much the Frngl costs.

The opening credits are fun, too. If you’ve ever shopped at IKEA you know the sights, from the Japanese ceiling lamps to the posters of meatballs. The filmmakers take advantage of all the possible “sets,” with moving on to a kitchen scene, where no water flows from the tap, to an office where the desk is clearly priced at $300, and then the pillow department, which stands in for a factory.

The main character is James, and he’s got some pretty big problems. His glamorous wife is cheating, he’s not doing so well at work, and he’s got a missing brother. Or something. Like I said, it doesn’t really matter what’s going on. The actors enjoy every second of this, milking the silliness for all it’s worth. The show wouldn’t work any other way. There actually is a plot, too, complete with a cliffhanger ending enticing us to keep watching. This is the kind of thing that wouldn’t exist without the web and the whole DIY ethos it brings.

Web Pilots

Web shows have become a genre unto themselves. And, like other shows, they need pilots that draw in the audience and set the stage for the series. They have some unique challenges, though. I’ve just started mulling this over, and am wondering if anyone else has any observations. (If so, hit me up!)

Web shows generally have short episodes, ranging from one to ten minutes or so. Perhaps because of our conditioning with YouTube and viral videos, we have limited patience with content designed to be viewed online (despite the fact that we’re now watching network and cable TV online as well). So it has to grab us and grab us fast. Also, it seems we haven’t grown a taste for dramas online. Generally, this stuff has to be funny.

Not only do web show have to accomplish more in a shorter time, there are expectations of edginess. Maybe it’s the medium that dictates it; the internet is younger than TV so it must be edgier. Or, perhaps it’s the audience. People who go digging online for new stuff to watch probably aren’t satisfied with the same old-same old.

Conversely, expectations are lower when it comes to production values. Because we love to see the Chad Vaders of the world make good, we are very forgiving of poor lighting or wonky edits. We still want good acting, though. (Or do we? Do you feel differently?) It’s not all unknowns trying to get noticed; big name actors are treading the pixels.

Stay tuned as I’ll be reviewing pilots of Ikea Heights, FCU: Fact Checkers Unit, and Web Therapy.