““It doesn’t matter if you fail or succeed.
What matters most is that you surround yourself with people who don’t suck”.
So called “workplace” stories constitute a kind of popular, transversal subgenre, especially on television. The most are comedies, quite likely because they fit with ease the sitcom structure.
We can broaden the scope a little, and include stories that are mainly job related but not necessarily confined to a single space (travelling or outdoor jobs, or even “wannabe” job-related stories), or consider the outdoors as “workplaces” too; but the substance doesn’t change: a job\workplace story still has the typical “behind-the-scenes” approach.
On the web, the workplace genre is kinda thriving. The possibility of a more niche-oriented storytelling (free from demographic calculations) allow creators to set their stories in almost any possible working environment, and let the audience choose. Which one, it depends on many factors, from locations to the writer’s personal experiences; and not unusually, these web series are branded and built out of the brand’s advertising needs.
Speaking in terms of potential, workplace (independent) web series can offer originality and diversity as no other audiovisual medium. I exclude from the recognition spinoffs or TV shows’ companion series (that basically serve other purposes), referring instead to original, self sufficient stories written for and released in the web.
Before giving you my personal picks, I’d like to spend a couple of words about settings.
Though you can find comedies about a great deal of jobs, including mechanics, IT guys, home-based occupations, and even a little sub genre dedicated to temporary employment or odd jobs (usually quite shallow), the following are the most popular types of workplaces in web comedy.
Office. The generic work environment for excellence goes beyond the company’s actual business sector to concentrate on quite easily standardized interpersonal dynamics, that a great deal of the audience can relate to. On the web, the best office comedies I know are mostly branded: like the fantasy comedy CTRL, The Temp Life (about temporary jobs or agencies), Leap Year (about a tech start-up) and Squatters (the last two not exclusively, but with a strong element of office setting – oh, by the way, Leap Year doesn’t seem to be a comedy, anymore). All of these series have been discussed in previous posts about branded web series (here and here) and crisis-related comedies.
Retail. Here’s a field that leaves a lot of different setting possibilities (and the opportunity to match the story with an actual sponsor). I’ve already talked about the IKEA based series Easy To Assemble; I can now mention series like Mixed Blooms (set in a flower shop), Virgin Mattress (in a mattress shop), Fetching (about a dog day care start-up) and a bunch of shows involving comic book shops and aiming to the usual geek niche. But just to show you some possibilities; usually, I find retail comedies a little disappointing; nice, but not memorable, especially on the characters side. Sometimes the branding is too evident to leave us with the feeling of true originality.
Food service. Lately, this sub genre seems to be a little over-exploited; but some series are quite enjoyable. Two of them, The People That Touch Your Food and Perks are actually among my personal picks and will be discussed below. A slightly weaker but still enjoyable title could be the cafe comedy Forty Weight.
Entertainment business. Due to its dreamy and (for most) unreachable nature, together with the author’s direct knowledge of the matter and the meta narrative’s (sometimes easy) charm, the entertainment business is one of the most popular and abused workplace settings ever, no matter the medium we pick up. But it is, indeed, a place “other” respect more “regular jobs”, not rarely satirized, deformed or idealized; for this reason, it will be discussed into a dedicated post.
Battleground (2012) is my pick for office comedies.
An unusual office, since we talk about an election campaign; but not totally new (pundits say it follows the path of films like The War Room and the mockumentary TV series Tanner 88).
Created, written and directed by actor J. D. Walsh, produced by West High Drama, it’s a political dramedy with a conventional sitcom length (20 minutes per episode).
Snooping behind the scenes of a Wisconsin state senator’s campaign for the United States Senate, a fictional troupe captures both working and personal moments of an heterogeneous staff.
Being a choral tale, the series manages to mix the compelling and tense depiction of the campaign with some personal dramas, a bit of romance and a sprinkle of erotic tension, flavoring the whole thing with relieving, out of the box minor characters.
The team is well balanced between the ambitious or workaholic leaders, the funny, seasoned scoundrel, the naive and clumsy volunteer and so on; and it is captured facing the overwhelming stress with efficiency, experience, knowledge and dedication (well, most of them, anyway). It’s not easy to stage such a material without falling into abused cliches but it’s what the series does. And when invention lacks (a self-centered, workaholic guy with heavy marriage issues is not exactly ann original character), strong acting and careful direction fill the gap.
Despite being first “Hulu original”, Battleground is not your average glossy TV show; it smells independent and as such should be watched and enjoyed.
Watch it here.
Adults Only (2012) it’s my pick for retail comedy. Among the few I genuinely enjoyed.
Created, written, produced and directed by comic book writer Jason M. Burns, and made in Mansfield by his digital company Plymouth Rock Creative, this independent web series manages to feature recognizable actors and the metal star Sebastian Bach; soap celebrity Ronnie Marmo, depicting one of the most iconic series’ characters, is also co-writer.
Set in a ordinary (and quite low key) adult video shop, the series shows the everyday life of the very diverse staff and some occasional or devoted client and centers on a middle aged, former Olympic athlete trying to reinvent himself as the shop’s manager (thanks to his brother-in-law, who’s the owner). Total fish out of water, the guy drops into a kind of “protected area” where everybody shares a bit of eccentricity; with a next door romantic interest adding a necessary subplot.
Adults Only is a series certainly well executed, intriguing and funny but totally convincing only at the very end, where some veils fall (though inside an absurd situation) and some sketched characters manage to reach a more rounded humanity, at last. Maybe an old school approach, providing retrospectively a new perspective on everything seen that far, more suit to a continuous, uninterrupted work than to a weekly short web show, but still satisfactory.
8 episodes, 8-10 minutes long.
On YouTube and Funny or Die.
Food service combo: The People That Touch Your Food and Perks
I like food service comedy. Mainly for the hooks this job setting offers: being a transitional place for differently ambitioned/dreamers who somewhat feel it as a temporary phase and staging a stressfull, fast-paced activity with concentration peaks (stress is always great comedy catalyst – after all, among the most lovable elements in 2 Broke Girls are Max’s relieving rants to clients).
Here are a couple of picks.
The People That Touch Your Food (2011) is a canadian web series about an independent restaurant facing the threat of a major franchise moving down the street.
Brainchild of creator Chris Hill, condensing in this story his three years experience as a restaurant caterer, is co-written by Ryan Byrne (writer, director, editor and actor in different media projects, and with a show on Funny Or Die, too) and produced by Nathan Brown.
It revolves around a restaurant manager fully devoted to her long time job and a not so equally devoted staff trying to survive that challenge (plus the everyday ones provided by difficult customers) and to improve performances, before getting laid off.
There’s a fair dose of cliches here, as well. But the series plays with them, building slightly exaggerated characters and a typical evolution that “brings everyone together”.
On the official site, YouTube, Funny or Die. Season two hopefully coming.
Perks (2011) is a cafe comedy, with a part of romcom.
Directed by Paul Genzink, who wrote it with Lindsey Scott, it’s produced by their company Parachute Production.
Again, it takes a look at the everyday routine of a coffee shop, seen from “the inside”. And again, we have a devoted local shop owner trying to make ends meet and dealing with hard times, loans and banks, and an heterogeneous, diverse and eccentric staff (from the clumsy “new guy” to the grumpy veteran) made primarily by young wanna be artists of some sort.
But the tone here is more discreet, down to earth; and so are the characters, giving off a sense of familiar and ordinary.
On the official page and on Blip.
English Teachers (2010) is a little, nice school/romantic comedy set in Japan.
Created and directed by Anthony Gilmore (mainly active in documentaries and with a past experience in Japan), is written by Brandon Kennison, Cameron Smith, Kelly Quinn, and Ryan Smith, produced by Japan based digital company Nameless Media and Productions.
It is set in an English language school for kids, full of good will and unorthodox foreign teachers (whose professionalism and efficiency are at least debatable), facing the unmerciful competition of a more organized, cold, multinational-like institute. The school seems almost a receptacle for some kind of misfits, slightly disturbed westerners that for some reason find themselves living temporarily or permanently in Japan. Some to find (or escape from) themselves, some for reasons probably not even clear to them.
The lead comes there from Kansas to impose a change in its life, and ends up learning a couple of things about himself. I know: school as a learning experience for teachers and travel as self-discovery journey are abused stereotypes, in fiction as in real life. But this series somewhat keeps itself light and fresh enough.
8 episodes, around 7 minutes each.
- Facing hard times with comedy: web series about recession
- Way beyond the “service”: some clever branded web series (2)
- Way beyond the “service”: some clever branded web series (1)