Shelf Life

I’ve been hearing about the web series Shelf Life* for a while now at cons and such and keep meaning to check it out — already, it’s in its third season. Thank you to AProblemShared for blogging about the show and thus reminding me!

Shelf Life opens with a catchy speed metal theme song as we fly in through a window to a child’s bedroom and four superhero figures standing on a shelf. For a split second you could almost mistake this for animation, and when the characters first start to speak you hardly see the mouths move. But when their owner leaves the room, the action starts. Continue reading

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Husbands, the Series

Husbands, the Series premiered via UStream tonight at 6:30 PST. “Why now?” co-writer and star Cheeks was asked. “Why not?” he replied.

Whether or not you think the world is ready for a series starring a gay married couple, it is here. And when you think about it, it’s kind of hard to believe it hasn’t been done before. Prior to the premiere, Executive Producer Jane Espenson, a woman with serious geek cred (Buffy, Angel, Dollhouse, Warehouse 13, Battlestar Galactica…), and stars Cheeks and Sean Hemeon, gave a little sneak-peek. They discussed what prompted Espenson to create this show, on her own dime, for the web. In a nutshell, she felt that this show needed to exist, and the web gave her the right outlet for it. “If Joss hadn’t done [Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog], I wouldn’t have done this,” she said.

The looming question was, is it funny? The pilot, titled Waking Up in Vegas, runs just a minute and a half and, like most webisodes is basically one joke. It opens with the characters, Cheeks and Brady, accompanied by bestie Haley (Alessandra Torresani) talking about their recent secret wedding. They kept it quiet because, we learn, Cheeks is a famous actor while Brady is a professional baseball player. Then we flash back four days to Las Vegas, just following the legalization of gay marriage, and we learn how the blessed union came to be.

The characters live up to a lot of stereotypes in this little snapshot. But it’s interesting that Brady is a professional athlete, an area where, unlike in Hollywood, being gay is still probably taboo. (If you’ve ever seen the hilarious play Take Me Out by Richard Greenberg, you know the potential of this subject matter.) And this is clearly just an introduction. There aren’t any big surprises but it sets us up for situations relate-able to any married couple, as well as those unique to gay men.

My favorite exchange is when Cheeks asks, “Do you have batting rehearsal?” to which Brady replies sweetly, “We call it practice.” So yes, it was funny, as well as quirky and colorful. I look forward to seeing where it goes. We don’t have to wait long. Episode 2 debuts on Thursday.

I saved the best part for last. Nathan Fillion is going to appear on the show!!!

Web Therapy

When Lisa Kudrow first looked at the camera, smiled her patronizing smile and said, “Hi, I’m…” I swear I thought she was gonna say “Regina Phalange.” It’s always an adjustment to accept an actor we’ve watched for a long time as one character, as another. And this Fiona Wallace character has the air of Phoebe Buffay putting on her Regina alter ego. In other words, she’s not exactly natural. But that’s not the idea. This pilot lets us know immediately what tone it’s going to take.

We see the desktop of Fiona’s computer as she gets to work conveying the show’s premise. She is a therapist (legitimate?) treating people via the web in three-minute sessions. The pilot is actually seven minutes long which, when we’ve been prepared for three, feels a bit long. The funny thing about media made for the web is we demand brevity.

Visually, it’s super simple, and it’s really just one joke. Fiona is treating a nerdy man named Richard. They greet each other with “it’s so nice to see you,” etc. even though it’s the first session, so we’re prepared for a history. It slowly comes out that they’ve had a relationship, possibly romantic. Each has his/her own perception of past events though, and both are a little nuts, so we’re not sure whose version of reality to buy.

Based on this first episode, the premise seems thin for an ongoing show, but somehow it’s in its third season. I haven’t watched to find out, but hopefully a season arc emerges, keeping the viewer coming back. Perhaps we haven’t seen the last of Richard; but how much sexual tension can you build showing two characters who aren’t even in the same room? Web shows tend to figure these things out as they go.

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.