I don’t follow enough big networks TV shows to be absolutely sure about it, but it seems to me (and addicted friends confirm it) that the economic crisis has only recently started to be featured into the main plots. Two Broke Girls, for instance, takes the lead from a high society NY family’s economic downfall, while Girls hints to twenty-something gals’ difficulties finding a job. More promptly, years ago CSI N.Y. incorporated budget cuts and wrong investments as important narrative elements (with repercussions on the station and on main characters). There are probably more examples that I don’t know of; but nevertheless, the crisis themes, even if present, are usually just ingredients (when not a pretext); never the main dish.
After all, mainstream entertainment is traditionally more oriented to escapism and consolation. Probably independent films did something better, but you know how it is: outside festivals circuits, even with decent distribution, is not always easy to keep track of them (in case you know some interesting title, please leave a comment below).
And what about the web? There, independent creators can say whatever they want, putting together a show in a fragment of the time needed by network TVs and reach an international audience without distribution limitations. And the web, indeed, accepted the challenge, to the point that crisis related shows are almost a specific, transversal sub genre.
Mainly comedies or dramedies (after all, it’s still entertainment), these shows have the liberty to get deep into the matter like no mainstream TV show could probably be allowed to do; or to feature an ethnically diverse cast; or to adopt a satiric, when not surreal, touch. Not that this happens in every show and with excellent introspective results every time, of course.
But nevertheless, such approach shows, once again, how today’s web series have a closer relationship with independent movies and theater than with broadcast TV. And that, if it needs to be stressed once again, is nothing but a good thing.
Downsized (2009) is another output of good old (or should I say “good new?”) independent NY school.
A Digital Chik TV original and 2012 Writers Guild Award Nominee, the series is created, written and produced by indie talent Daryn Strauss (also starring); one of the first twenty-two digital media writers signed to the Writers Guild of America, East.
The series is a choral dramedy focusing upon a bunch of people forced to re-discuss their lives and lifestyles due to economy downturns, may that mean changing everyday habits, giving up some taken for granted luxuries, or stalling projects and expectations.
A collection of people, victims of office downsizing, wrong investments or other unexpected events, maybe coming out of a divorce or avoiding it for sake of convenience, whose common thread is the everyday struggle with the unmerciful recession machine. But, as said, this is not a tear jerking heavy drama; and that’s good. The dramedy formula allows more nuances, more balance between opposite moods, as well as between drama and satire. And that’s nothing but a plus when it comes to create a story around complex topics like these; especially when that dramedy is built upon solid performances, an average good production and, above all, a totally convincing and indie-flavored writing.
“I wanted to find a way to make this odd economic crisis enjoyable – a way to memorialize what it was like to live through it” Strauss said.
On the official web site, YouTube and Blip .
Saving Rent (2010) is another choral dramedy, this time LA based. It’s written and directed by Gary Teperman (a 10 years experienced filmmaker that started his company, Pegside Films, in 2003) and co-witten/produced by TV actress Alice Cutler (who also stars as the lead’s girlfriend). Production is from Jonathan Zweben (over 14 years of television marketing experience).
It starts slow, and the cheap looking opening sequence could make you wanna skip. But don’t. It takes its time, but hits all its goals, revealing itself as a multi-layered tale with a good plot and a convincing writing that goes progressively deep into characters and personal journeys.
To do that, the series recycles and puts together very classic LA themes and topics. Alongside to the economical crisis and the financial business’ mercilessness (and a proud lead unable to tell his girlfriend he’d been laid off), we have: the aspiring, dreaming singer; the starving actor; the illegal alien jumping from job to job and facing integration difficulties; and even a wannabe porn actress and a runaway wealthy teen. All put together with a remarkable balance to give birth to a story that doesn’t look for easy consolations or a cheap, quick laugh, always keeping itself believable; untill a bittersweet ending, comparing little and big ambitions (with even a hint of moral tale, if you wanna see it).
On the official site, KoldCast and Blip.
Lien on me
Lien on Me (2010) is another ensemble piece; and a pure comedy. It takes a closer look to one of the businesses more evidently struck by the economic downturn: real estate. But in a way you wouldn’t expect.
It’s directed by Nino Mancuso (whose main credits so far are in art department), co-written by David Beatty (also starring as the lead), and co-produced by Ammar Ramzi (starring as the “idiot nephew”); both the latter being independent directors, producers and TV actors.
Lien on Me shows a real estate agent facing hard times and the risk of losing his job and his own house. Taking on some debatable tenants (out of job constructor and wife) to make help with the rent doesn’t help much; as well as “mentoring” the idiot nephew of his (homeless already) boss, or facing a sinister loan broker.
The series’ strength is it to play straight and fully the cards of absurdity and surreal. There’s no trace of real drama here, despite the gloomy themes; only comic overturn, accurately supported by a hypermobile camera and a shooting/editing stile made of irregular cuts, unexpected pans or zooms and other good old comedy tricks. Not to speak of the music, mainly used in a caricatural way.
And when you think you’ve got it, a strange twist around two thirds of the show brings a strong turn towards an even more surreal and absurd atmosphere (even the episode length changes, from 3-5 minutes to 8-10). This may be read as a sign of unbalance (and, as a matter of fact, it is); but still, it happens so unexpectedly, and brings such a providential freshness to the whole thing, that it’s quite welcome.
On YouTube and Blip.
Reinventing yourself: Moderation Town and Nextnik
Some series try to depict the difficulties of transitioning from a (lost) job to a new one. The following are a couple of interesting examples.
Moderation Town (2011). Canadian comedy whose second season just started, it’s directed by Mark Mullane, who wrote it with Tim McAuliffe, and stars a collection of fellow talented comedians.
Funny and delightfully light, it revolves around an heterogeneous bunch of people in a small town, ranging from great to zero skills and needing to reinvent themselves as web moderators after losing the job. None of them seems to be quite fit for the task (sounds familiar? It does to me), some for excessive zeal, some others for total ineptitude; and they even manage to hire their own troll.
As in every noble startup tradition, all the business is done in the “boss” mother’s living room.
The second season starts with some heavy plot twists, almost surely due to cast renewal.
Nextnik (2011). Another dramedy featuring a career man, business executive in his fifties, loosing his job after 25 years of service and taking that as an opportunity to see his life through a fresh perspective. Of course, reinventing yourself it’s not an easy task and failure is always around the corner.
Nextnik has a peculiar feel. Production values, dialogue and acting keep a kind of low key, down to earth, intimistic approach and give the feel of a sort of diary in third person (that’s how it worked for me, at least).
Created and directed by Michael Kravinsky, it’s composed of six episodes, less than 10 minutes each. Unfortunately, it’s been removed from the web, except a little fragment you can see on YouTube; but a movie version is due to come out, September 2012.
Without a home: Squatters and Self Storage
Finally, there is who tries to go further: telling a story where losing the house is nor even a risk, anymore. The following two web series, in a different way, notably approach this same topic. They start with an eviction and the need to face this new situation; but at the same time, the characters are partially responsible for that; so these series are not strongly focused on recession themes as the previous ones; but, obviously, those themes appear here, too, and make these shows resonate with the main thread we’re following.
Squatters (2010) is a multi-awarded show written and directed by independent NY talent Brendan Bradley (whose credits range from musicals to branded entertainment); it sees two best friends reacting to the eviction with a bet: to see which one could last more by sleeping in casual places (parents and friends excluded). While one starts camping in the office, the other relies on his Casanova talents to scrounge a free bed every night; both, for pride and for stubbornness, go on perfecting the method every day.
Part office comedy, part urban comedy and part romcom, it features a rich and diverse cast from theater, TV, movies and web.
It was the first original series picked up by DailyMotion and you can watch it also on KoldCast, YouTube and Vimeo
Self Storage (2010) is an independent show directed by Scott Keiner and written by Julie Mann and Kimberly Trew. It follows two unfortunate college grads, victims of a scam and forced to live into a storage unit after the eviction. They try to keep secret this unconventional new accommodation and to balance it with the appearance of a normal, decent life.
The catch is how absurd situations are turned in seemingly normal and routine elements. The social analysis is not very deep, though; the series keeps a light, sketchy approach which is perfectly fulfilled by 3-4 minutes episodes.
Curiously, it found a sponsorship on its way: Southern California company Storage Outlet (heavily featured in the second, branded, season).
On YouTube and Blip.
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