Watching on the Web
Famous names like Seinfeld & Hanks ride the web series wave
By Aleksander Chan, 2:57PM, Wed. Sep. 19, 2012
For most of the aughts, original web series have been derided as spectacular failures: grainy “mobisodes,” half-baked “web extras,” ambiguously labeled “exclusive content.”
But perhaps in response to Netflix readying the launch of its own original series (and Arrested Development's second coming), some famous people and ambitious platforms have thrown real money at producing for the web. We've rounded up some notable efforts.
Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
Jerry Seinfeld must read Gwyneth’s GOOP. Or at least has a Tom Ford fetish. How else to explain his latest show about nothing (aside from the title, that is), where the comedian eats lunch with his celebrity pals while fabulously detailed b-roll of hifalutin dinnerware and French presses interpolate like a high-def William Sonoma ad? Worse: every episode starts with him showing off one of his vintage cars. Good thing his guests, who include Colin Quinn and Alec Baldwin, keep the conversations grounded and airy and refreshingly frank.
It’s almost jarring to hear Tom Hanks’ distinctive crackle come out of an animated badass. Hanks wrote and produced this animated series about a dystopian future where electricity use is monitored by a fascist regime; he voices a smoothy rogue named Cleland Car. The show certainty looks pretty (it could very easily air on TV), and considering it’s the length of a humdrum feature film, but cut up into 20 five-minute episodes, that it manages to be visually interesting throughout is no small feat. There’s a great outline of a mature, animated series for adults about dependence and community sketched here, but it’s bludgeoned by genre tropes and inconsistent flashes of violence – if you’ve ever wanted to hear Tom Hanks’ voice snap a guy’s neck, here’s your chance.
In this alternate future, the Internet can be implanted directly into your nervous system like a flu shot. The suave, Apple-like company manufacturing the new technology even sells it with a New Age spin: With this device, you’ll be more in tune with your body. As such devices will in apocalyptic conspiracy thrillers, the implants run haywire from a virus – the Internet could quite literally be our undoing. Produced by Bryan Singer (X-Men, The Usual Suspects) and with some serious production values, the series is presented in hodgepodge: The more than four hours worth of story is completely nonlinear; you can watch the episodes in any order. But watching them as numbered makes the many crisscrossing storylines (the best starring Alexis Denisof as a cuckold who grows close to his potential surrogate) line up more neatly. H+'s expert producers know how to plot out a five-minute segment to make you keep clicking through.
When pro baseball player Brady (Sean Hemeon) and tabloid fixture Cheeks (Brad Bell) wake up from a Vegas bender married, not only did they have to navigate what it meant for two men to be together, but also figure out what it meant to each of them to be with the other. The sitcom, launched by Bell and Buffy the Vampire Slayer writer Jane Espenson in September 2011, managed to be epigrammatic without sacrificing any narrative breadth. Its second season amps up the wordplay and celebrity cameos (Buffy creator Joss Whedon and Jon Cryer have roles) as the couple struggles with their public identity. The show barrels off quips at a rapid pace (a lot of them zingers), but beneath its manic wit is a pointed comedy about marrieds oscillating moments of stubbornness, adoration, and patience.
Because the Internet loves teens behaving badly. When Danbury Prep It Couple Mason and Kalee go missing, the police round up their friends for a faux-documentary recounting of the night they disappeared. Not since Gossip Girl’s heyday has a teen soap so relished in its designer gaudiness: Women in white dresses splattered with blood, implied underage sex with parents, and those impossibly well-lit house party scenes all make lurid appearances. As with the best teen dramas, the plot doesn’t really hang together, but it hardly matters: The young actors are too good to look away, and they find the right mix between snot-nosed brat and tragic victim.
Part of the early returns on Google’s multi-million dollar investment in professional, scripted series for YouTube, this channel, short for “Where It Gets Interesting,” is helmed by Jon Avnet (Black Swan) and Rodrigo Garcia (Albert Nobbs) in the vein of a Lifetime Lite, with smaller but still significant budgets and some star casting coups. There are a number of series that are part of the channel, but most with the bigger names are either too dull (Jennifer Garner, Serena) or weakly performed with clunky dialogue (as in Blue, starring Julia Stiles as a mother who works as an escort to make ends meet). But there are some who translate well to the miniature format: In Rochelle, Rosanna Arquette brings a natural, breathy presence to a scorned woman who hires a prostitute to break her ex-husband's heart.