By guest contributor Neha Talreja
Is it too soon to ask who watches TV on TV anymore? I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t getting real snuggly with my toasty MacBook while catching up on an entire season of How I Met Your Mother. We’re a pocket tripod and boom mic away from making “TV” on our smart phones, so you’re already late if you haven’t been watching any shows made specifically for the web platform. A number of actors and comedians have been making digital shorts since the mid-2000s, but, in the last few years, serialized web series have exploded, appearing not only on YouTube but a number of web series-oriented websites like Blip.tv and TubeFilter.com. What my ultra-modern (miniscule) attention span likes about these is that, even as they increase production value and draw bigger talent, many have stayed 5-10 minutes an episode and still retain impressive narrative arcs and character development. Most of them are a product of a new kind of underground film scene which allows aspiring actors, writers, and filmmakers to work on something with substance instead of delving into the hopeless cattle call for small roles in New York City and Los Angeles, additionally giving wider exposure to talent in other cities like Philly, Austin, Chicago, Seattle, and yours truly, San Francisco. Here are some of my favorites from the last few years.
Married on MySpace
MySpace, in one of its many efforts to reinvent itself, got in on the web series game relatively early. Their 2009 interactive reality series Married on MySpace, with contestants reminiscent of the ’90s Real World era, feels like a throwback even now as this decade’s savvy “reality television actors” studied up enough to find their fifteen minutes of infamy. Viewers vote on every detail of one lucky couple’s impending wedding, from location to invitations to attire. The best part is how earnest the contestants are, genuinely excited in their quest to attain the wedding of a lifetime! — paid for by MySpace. It’s that enthusiasm and subsequent shock that comes out of letting a demented viewership have control that makes this worth indulging in. These voters are people who still use MySpace! Who else will vote to transport the couple in a vintage Rolls Royce one episode and make them say their vows in (spoiler alert!) kilts the next?
The Bloody Mary Show
For the most part, web series are made up of short five to ten minute episodes, which allows more of the zanier stuff that might feel too high strung to watch full-length. Think SNL’s digital shorts but with a season arc. The Bloody Mary Show is a British comedy that plays out like darker dinner theater — the urban legendary Bloody Mary and her friends live, love, and discuss it all Cheers style at their local bar. We’ve all got that Saturday night wind-down show, and it turns out, when you’re still a little drunk with a burrito in hand at 3 A.M., little is more entertaining than a skeleton and succubus in costuming that looks like it came out of the Halloween superstore and surprisingly good production value, spewing pithy remarks about the disgustingness of sex with humans. “It curdles my girdles…all that flesh, all those organs…” Watch The Bloody Mary Show here!
Chloe and Zoë
Everything already written about Chloe and Zoë pretty much confirms we’re at that pop cultural point where any twenty-something girls instantly remind us of those Girls, but here’s a little secret about TV on the internet: it can get away with being mean. Real-life creators Chloe and Zoë star as fictional versions of themselves living in LA and doing a lot of nothing, except being obliviously mean in kind of an It’s Always Sunny way, but with darkly cute, comedic girl pathos. I’ll watch this and stay in my twenty-something girl bubble for the time being ’cause, as they ask in the season finale, “Why would anyone hate us?” Watch Chloe and Zoë here!
This one easily has the most depth of all the series on this list. Knowing little about the realities of urban lesbian communities (this takes place in Chicago), I started watching The L-Word for like a minute, but then found that Easy Abby seemed like less of a caricature of lesbian culture and anxieties. Also, the creators describe the passive aggressive protagonist Abby as a “chronic seducer with an anxiety disorder who’s just trying to get by,” which is basically what I like to think of myself as, so I’m hooked. Watch Easy Abby here!
The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl
If creator Issa Rae’s inspiration — What would a black Liz Lemon be like? — doesn’t sell you, we might not be on the same TV wavelength. This series follows a smart and cynical J through the awkward realities of her mundane office job, struggles with friends, and her love life. The first season focuses primarily on her relationships with Fred, a black co-worker, and his goofy friend Jay, referred to as “White Jay.” Although Rae has said she and the writers don’t go at each episode attempting to tackle “issues” like interracial dating or ethnic stereotypes, the series does remind me a bit of the 2008 independent film Medicine for Melancholy, which explored what its like to be young, black, and identify with “indie” culture in a rapidly gentrifying San Francisco. In one episode, J prepares for a “white date” of sushi and froyo only to find White Jay attempted to impress her with fried chicken and spoken word. “Rap and poetry had a baby called spoken word,” she laments, “I want to abort that baby.” Watch Awkward Black Girl here!
So you want your Jersey Shore Gangnam style? This show is one Korean Snookie away from being right at their level in Koreatown, Los Angeles. The gang’s party prep catch-phrasing involves a little more party than Jersey Shore’s “GTL” (Gym-Tanning-Laundry): Four rounds, “Il-Cha,” “E-cha,” “Sam-cha,” and “Sa-cha” are all essentially different rounds of drinking (Happy Hour, Food and Drinks, Pre-Gaming, and the Main Party). Despite its entertainment value, I have to consider the world portrayed on the show as its own planet for my own sake. K-Town pretty much eradicates all the work Awkward Black Girl does to provide more complex and varied portrayals of different races than we usually see.
In 2011, 7×7 posted a call for videos parodying our own brand of Portlandia-esque vegan, bike riding, locally DJ culture, but all I can find is a strange first effort at trying out a vegan pizza. There’s potential here, so I’m going to propose some of our underground filmmakers bring a little more San Francisco into the web series world and go at this again!