There’s quite a bunch of web series talking about some kind of nerds and geeks.
For two main reasons: firstly, nerd-geeks are tech savvy and most likely already there (they’re, let’s say, the native web audience – even though not the exclusive one: go and ask soap opera guys); secondly, The Guild’s ridiculous success instilled in too many people’s minds the wrong idea that, to be successful on line, you just need to do a show about gamers, geeks or nerds.
But quite few of them can be actually defined very good shows. The extreme, blindfold targeting is their major weakness.
There’s no doubt the web space is a better place to create niche targeted entertainment than anywhere else. But targeting a niche, small or huge it may be, doesn’t mean that they’ll watch just because you talk about them (especially if you’re not, really, one of them). Moreover, I believe that each story, no matter how niche oriented it may be, is much more interesting, rich and compelling if it contains some kind of universal content, that a broader audience can relate to. With this, I don’t mean widening the audience by putting a sweet loving family with marriage issues into an alien or zombie story (yep: I’m talking to you); I mean, instead, building more human, complex, rounded and rich characters, that are defined by their behaviors, feelings, tics, manias, not just by, reverting to nerd area, the mechanical act of playing a game or quoting Star Trek; and some situations that involve more depth that just geeking/nerding around.
Like it or not, nerd culture is today an official and important slice of general culture itself. Maybe not so fashionable and accepted like geek culture (nerds will always be a sort of outcasts) but its presence is undeniable and transversal. I believe that acknowledging the complexity and richness of nerds as human beings does a better service to nerd culture that just building quick jokes, exploiting easy clichés or relaying to flat, mono-chord characters (the principle itself applies to any other niche, as well).
This, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to be the rule; but it’s what my favorite nerd shows do.
Night Of The Zombie King
Let’s begin with a little gem.
Night Of The Zombie King (2010) is among the best drama I’ve ever seen on the web. Derivative, of course (the same creators call it “The Big Chill for nerds”) but “cross” enough (cross-genre, cross-culture, etc.) to make it stand out as something unique and precious.
Created, written and directed by David Nett (active in independent film-making and acting) and spin-off of his previous series Gold (2008), features Frederick Snyder as co-director, Andrew Deutsch and Rick Robinson as co-writers. Production is by Nett’s company Punisher 77 and AU Productions.
Starting from the same premises of Gold (which is a dramedy, though) and focusing on one of its minor characters, NOTZK is a chamber drama following an “all in one night old buddies reunion” meant to conclude a role playing match abandoned years ago, when one of them decided to leave town for joining a professional players team. Now the guy is back, dreams are gone but old grudges remain, probably to burst out quite soon. Isn’t this wonderfully “indie”? Yep, it is.
The series’ (and Gold‘s) strength is to show adult gamers instead of the most predictable youngsters and to keep gaming (even though in a quite elaborate and detailed way) as a stage where deeper human conflicts can unfold and clash. You don’t need to be a gamer to love it (I’m not), even thought the developing drama is tied to the evolving dynamics of the game itself: the latter is “spectacularized” enough to let everyone understand what’s happening on the table; more: to let them feel the “epic” of the game itself.
Needless to say, such a balanced and refined writing is supported by heartfelt acting (btw, it’s the right moment to say I love Stephanie Thorpe) and production values that ,even after a couple of years, appear not so common in web shows. Not to speak of the indie flavored acoustic soundtrack.
FYI: NOTZK was the first web series to make me shed a tear. Just sayin’.
You can watch both series on official site, on Blip and JTS.
I’ve waited as long as I could. But sooner or later, if you’re talking about web series, you have to pay tribute to The Guild (2007). It’s almost embarrassing trying to explain why, so I won’t. For once, the web is full of infos about it.
The Guild is a comedy created by actress Felicia Day (whose most notable role had been “Vi” in Buffy and who’s now the most successful web series star/creator), who wrote it in 2006 as a TV pilot and re-adapted it as a web show later; directors are Jane Selle Morgan (2007), Greg Benson (2008-2009) and Sean Becker (2008-2011). Morgan is also co-producer together with Kim Evey (both with previous experience in web video) and Day.
The series transplants the “dysfunctional family” topos into the world of on-line gamers, depicting a strangely assorted quintet of totally unrelated people playing together as a guild in a fictional game (modeled on the uber famous World of Warcraft) and that, almost by accident, begin to interact in real life, too.
Today that The Big Bang Theory is an acclaimed success and nerds are officially acknowledged as a marketable target audience, it sounds strange that The Guild (TV pilot) was rejected in 2005-6. Especially because it’s better. Day’s writing is clever, witty and personal and, even more important, you feel her characters, though being built around clichés, as alive and much more real than every TBBT one ever did (except, maybe, Penny – who’s not a nerd, though). These “common traits of weirdness” (maniacal traits, obsessions, social awkwardness, and the like) in The Guild’s characters are that special thing making them broadly enjoyable. Once again, even if game dynamics and terminology play an important part in the series, you don’t need to be a gamer to love these funny pariahs and follow the story. A nerd, maybe; or maybe, just someone that feels different and loves “difference” in others.
With 5 seasons wrapped up (each one less than an hour overall), The Guild has been released on YouTube and on MSN video section; but the most easy way to watch it today it’s on Felicia Day’s YouTube Premium channel Geek And Sundry.
This is a relatively “smaller” one. Of course, if you don’t consider it’s Saturday Night Live related (much of the SNL cast and crew reportedly spent their summer vacation producing it).
Comedy, again, but with some kind of melancholic aftertaste, The Line (2008) depicts what a strange and alien environment a queue outside a sci-fi movie premiere can be (with evident hints to phenomena like Star Wars fandom).
Written by Bill Hader and Simon Rich, and sponsored by Sony Pictures (featuring actual movie posters for upcoming Columbia Pictures releases), the web series stars Hader himself and Joe Lo Truglio as two fans waiting in line for the final installment of a fictional space franchise (a similar idea, applied to a comic book, is used in a Guild‘s season of, as well). Way before the movie begins, this assorted crowd amasses in front of the theater and there’s time for everything, from catching up with each other lives to engaging absurd priority battles.
The two characters embody an entire generation (now adult, with jobs, family and children maybe) that grew up immersed in nerd culture (in turn, driven by some massive and long lived phenomena like sci-fi and fantasy sagas) and this generational scope, again, is what makes the series something more than a flat “nerd tale”. Not for everyone, maybe; but again, I guess you can follow and feel these characters even if you didn’t indulge yourself once in collecting memorabilia or enjoying sci-fi marathons.
At the very least, works like this are little social testaments in themselves. The final movie is quite easily implying a series of emotional consequences: the end of an era, the passing of time, the youth days going further away. The melancholy of a passion trapped inside ever changing body and mind, of making different stages of yourself came to terms… you know what I’m talking about, right?
7 episodes, The Line launched at Sony-owned portal Crackle ands it’s on Funny Or Die and YouTube.
Last one of my personal selection, Awkward Embraces (2010) it’s a romantic comedy with nerds. Or, at least, one nerd.
Written, produced by, and starring Jessica Mills (LA talent and self proclaimed nerdy gal), the series is directed and edited by Adam Finmann. It mainly follows the dating adventures (and everyday misadventures) of three LA girls, especially a terminal, hopeless Star Trek and comic book nerd unable to find the right match (or to get how to find it).
This nerdy flavor is what makes the otherwise “normal” romantic and LA based comedy into something more personal and tasty. Because if the main dish is, of course, Mills character (and her technique made of a combination of casual acting and funny, cartoonish faces), the real material the story is built upon is her interaction with the outside, “normal” world. So, instead of depicting a kind of “protected environment” where nerds gather (as most of nerds/geek series do), here we have a “lonely” nerd trying to accomplish the extremely hard task of blending with a conformed world (I know: why should a nerd try to get accepted by someone unable to understand her? Apart from providing comedy material, it beats me. Ask Jessica).
Plus, putting her among other two roommates who are total strangers to everything even remotely geeky and nerdy helps broaden the potential audience.
2 seasons, 26 episodes, around 5 minutes each (quite the right length for the material). On YouTube.
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