Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Web We Weave

Now that the summer TV season is over and the fall season barely begun, I've been searching for my sci fi fix. I watched The Book of Eli, thinking it would help, but though the movie has an interesting post apocolyptic setting that includes cannabilism and the requisite violence, I'm one of the folks who think the book Eli protects with his life might have been better off destroyed with the rest.

In times like this, I revert back to old faves, like (wait for it) Farscape, and my first stop is usually fan site Terra Firma, which always has news of the 'scaper cast and crew. One of the big items is (sigh) Ben Browder, who's been off the radar for far too long. I had hopes of seeing him on the CW's Hellcats (and judging from the half an ep I watched, he would have done the role proud) but he withdrew to pursue "other" interests. Among them? Naught for Hire, billed as a "noir" detective, sci fi, comedy web series.

Yup, that's right--web series.

Sadly, Naught and its star, Browder, are not ready for web time yet, but the site has a few things to play around with, including a peek at a few scenes.

Of course, this got me thinking about the format in general, and I began exploring.

First, I watched an episode of Venice--largely because I'd been hearing a lot about it through my other obsession, soap operas. Venice is a web series written and produced by soap actress Crystal Chappell, starring herself as a strong, independent and self-made interior designer who happens to be gay. The series grew out of a popular storyline on the now-cancelled Guiding Light about two women who fall in love; the first episode of Venice begins with these same two actresses in bed. Because of Chappell's many connections, the performing and production quality is on par with any professionally produced television show.

Not so with most of the sci fi web series I watched.

The four I watched--It Ends Today; The Realm; The Ennead; and The Preconscious Reim--did not benefit from the same budgets and/or freebies to which Chappell has access. The acting is often hesitant and school-projecty; the film making (lighting, editing, photography, etc,) just this side of competent.

But--and it is a big but--some of the storylines were interesting.

The best looking of the bunch--The Ennead--begins when 5 strangers wake up in the woods. They don't know their names and they don't know each other. Each of them have odd items in their pockets and a few have disjointed memories of one of the others, but nothing that makes sense. Who are they? Why are they there? What's going on? Three questions that could keep you interested enough to click on ep 2.

In It Ends Today, a young woman is--literally--jerked out of her apartment, wakes up barefoot a few miles away, and finds a pair of runners beside her. Between the shoes is a gadget with a message taped to it: sync to voicemail. When she plays the gadget, she hears her boyfriend, Eric, say her name and begin a countdown from 4. What's going on? She puts on the shoes, races back to her apartment, frantically finds the key and opens the door. Eric appears gone, but seconds later, walks through the door with a bag of groceries. He is not happy to see her. Turns out she's been gone 3 weeks, and he's sure she's returned to her drug habit. But when she gets him to play the voicemail she supposedly left for him (another countdown) and synchs the two up, he starts vibrating and glowing and finally flies across the room as though the Wicked Witch of the West has been at him. When he comes to, all he can say is: it ends today. What ends? How does it end? What do these two have to do with it? To be continued...

Preconscious Reim is kind of a Quantum Leap idea about a twenty-something with a gadget that lets him experience "alternate" lives. I gathered that eventually all this leaping around will coalesce into something more important than why-not-there's-nothing-else-to-do, but there's no hint of that in the first episode. Neither is there any goal, motivation or conflict for the hero, who seems to get through the leap without much cost to himself or others. Without stakes of any kind, it's kind of hard to care, except out of mild curiosity. A lesson to all us writers. The lead has a Matthew Broderick/Ferris Beuller's Day Off kind of vibe that at first seemed amateurish, then grew on me. The series has already produced 12 episodes, so there must be something to it. I do hope the whole thing isn't shot in someone's parents' suburban subdivision, like the first ep. though...

The Realm seems to be a series of short stories centered around the human experience of reality and time, but neither of the 2 eps I watched made much sense, although both had a creepy kind of tone that I'd give props to. Each "story" begins with what looks like vintage film/animation, which may or may not be original work. If it is, I suspect most of the budget went into that. The creators of this series either consider themselves post-narrative or just don't know how to tell a story yet. Like too much sci fi, they seem more interested in ideas than character and plot.

All of these series can be viewed on You Tube, so check them out and let me know what you think.

And if anyone out there has found a really good sci fi web series they'd recommend, give it a shout out.


  1. Thanks for the updates. I liked the Book of Eli and I'm always looking for a new fantasy fix.

  2. Glad to hear it. I think Eli had a fair amount of fans, even if I wasn't among them. I've still got my eye out for some good fantasy, though, so will share when I find it.

  3. I really enjoy the web series by Felicia Day called The Guild. Day is a favorite of Joss Whedon, so you may recognize the name. It's not fantasy, exactly, but it's funny.

  4. Oh, here's another one I haven't tried yet but it's critically acclaimed!

  5. Hey, Cat--will check those out. Thanks for the recs.