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“You know? In retrospect, this whole thing was probably a bad idea”
(From Break A Leg)

As I mentioned elsewhere, one peculiar sub-genre of workplace stories involves the entertainment business, describing industry’s behind the scenes or using it as a general setting. There are excellent dramas (Sidney Lumet’s Network popping out my mind right now) but I believe comedies are more popular, especially if LA based, being Holly show-biz’s “frenzy, madness & idiosyncrasy”™ part of its self-promoted image and the comedy, parody and spoof genres quite suited to translate them in lighter, easier and harmless entertainment.
This is especially true if we narrow the scope to web series (where, they say, “comedy is king”). And I have to remark that, frankly, I found a great deal of them shallow and insipid. Maybe it’s me, not mad about light and easy humor, relying on easy clichés and not bothering to build an original storyline or characters with more than one dimension. They’re still fun, at times. But highly forgettable.
Fortunately, there are exceptions. Sometimes playing more cleverly (and not exclusively) with stereotypes, sometimes just fresh and genuine enough.
Side note: though I’ve seen some nice theater comedies, no-one made it to the top list of this selection. If you still wanna try some, I’d suggest Exit Stage Left, Places Please, The Ho No Show and Jack In A Box (that’s only partially about theatre, though). I don’t know of any valid scripted web series about the music business, too, while some about rock bands, biopic style and the like, will be covered in a dedicated article.
Second side note: I don’t know of a worthwhile, pure “meta” web series, too, covering specifically the bts of this format; there is The Webventures of Justin and Alden that partially touches the subject but it’s based on cameos and reference jokes and it’s suited to a kind of “medium-advanced” audience.

Hollywood, actors and living-in-LA: Bandwagon, Girl Parts and The Cynical Life

Bandwagon started as a independent movie in 2004, later released as a web series and followed by a 2010 web sequel.
Created and produced by Karri Bowman (also starring and directing – with Ahmed Best in Season One), Emma Caulfield and Camilla Rantsen, the web series is, like the movie, a mockumentary set in Hollywood community. Both feature Caulfield in a fictional, extremely superficial version of herself, trying to find a new life goal by helping a mentally disabled girl to start an acting career (movie) and, six years later, supporting the production of an “urban Glee” TV series, to arise awareness about the talents of young “black Hollywood” community (web series). Both ventures end up with unexpected outputs.
Totally improvised (sometimes even without other people being warned or prepared) and subtly satirizing the proverbial Hollywood hypocrisy, it features a series of more or less absurd situations that people face (or most often pretend to do) as they were absolutely ordinary. The contrast is of course striking and comical. The tone is a slight different, though: the movie is bitter-sweet, while the web show is more directly hilarious and caricatural, aside from being more rich in characters.
Movie and web series on YouTube.

Girl Parts (2011) is yet another show to play with the starving LA actors cliché. Fortunately, it does it with freshness and lightness.
Created, written and produced by TV and movie actress Kelsey Robinson, directed by Mike Drobinski (mainly a second unit director), it follows four LA roommates trying to make it in Hollywood. Three of them, at least, because the fourth is an ex child star working in a talent agency (and bringing home real money) but who’s not given up on her craft like herself believes to. There’s a lot of risky stereotypes in there (including “friends” competing in the same auditions, odd acting jobs, uncaring cynical agents, and, you know, all that living-in-LA stuff); but Robinson knows her matter well enough to create a show that starts light and just flows naturally till the end, making you care about these girls in the process. A second season is coming.
On Blip, YouTube, KoldCast.

The edgy comedy The Cynical Life (2012), though focusing on a writer, is, again, set in LA and generally spoofs “that-kind-of-life”.
Written, created and produced (for her digital company Alchemy Pictures) by actress Ashley Avis, also starring as the lead, and directed by Matthew Sullivan, it follows a cynical twenty-something that makes a living out if children’s books (hating it). Stuck in LA after losing all her money (long story), she moves with her aspiring-model-meanwhile-egg-seller sister and sets her office in a writers-only bar, “attempting to pen something more Disney commercially viable than When Barney’s Parents Died in the Lava“.
Technically, the show is pretty well-done, but its definite plus are the details of ordinary weirdness that decorate the main characters routine. Yep, this follows the old eccentric-LA-life thread, but cleverly enough.
The series is sort of a pilot/short split in several episodes and created out of a self challenge in a couple of weeks.
You can watch the series as well as the final cut on YouTube.

Movie industry (sort of): Blue Movies

Blue Movies (2009) is set in San Fernando Valley, which happens to be the porn capital of the world.
Created and produced by web veteran Scott Brown (the same of Asylum), and written together with Jareb Dauplaise (also starring as the producer/director of the fictional company), it’s a comedy focusing on a rising porn studio, struggling to create its masterpiece.
We follow an intern assigned there by mistake, who has to drop his expectations of a “regular” Hollywood initiation and try to adapt to the new environment and learn as much as he can from it. As in best traditions, the experience will be both a worki and a life lesson.
As an entertainment business web comedy, Blue Movies stands out quite easily. Characters are genuine and convincing (even the sketched/funny ones) and progressively reveal a little depth; it has warmth, spirit, honesty and even the most superficial puns are not there to bring a quick laugh but add something to the whole.
Only 5 episodes, around 7 minutes each.
At the moment, it’s available exclusively on JTS.

Television industry: Break A Leg and Going Our Way

A sitcom about the making of a (pretty weird) TV show, Break A Leg (2007) is the first production by Happy Little Guillotine Films (the company behind the celebrated branded hit Leap Year, together with CPJ/Wilson Cliveland), written by Yuri and Vlad Baranovsky (the first starring, the second directing).
The series follows a TV writer having just nailed his first sitcom deal. The new show is meant to replace a previous hit (that he’s the only one not to know of) but the production team appears to be indecisive, amateurish and, even worse, penniless. Oh, and it seems the writers die quite frequently, there.
Break A Leg starts as a mystery, announcing the lead’s killing and then flash-backing, but immediately switches an original melting pot of absurd, surreal, caricatural and witty comedy, sustained by unconventional music, nervous and syncopated editing (including some cartoon-like sound effects), clever writing and dialogs. While production values look cheap, the show makes up for them with its intelligence and originality.
17 episodes of various length (the first chapters are split into several bits), plus some extra content; you can watch them on the main website, on Blip, or YouTube (worse quality).
As today, the series is stalled, and the story unfinished. A season 2 seems still to be the plan, but a sponsor is needed.

The Australian Going Our Way (2011) is a much more “regular” TV-bts show, with some generational comedy in the blend.
Created by Melbourne independent filmmaker Fiona Eloise Bulle (writer and producer) and TV assistant, indie writer Jessica Brajoux (director with John Erasmus), it follows the life of a 23 year old unemployed screenwriter trying to get an internship on Australia’s number one soap opera and fighting against her lifelong, much more successful nemesis.
Well produced, it has a special flavor that makes it immediately stand out: because it’s not the usual same-old-LA thing and, again, because its main focus are not TV stereotypes but more complete and likable characters, even while some of them sound a little two-dimensional.
On the main site, YouTube and Vimeo.

Stand-up Comedy: Pretty Darn Funny

Moving from big entertainment to (maybe less dreamed about) stand-up comedy, here comes Pretty Darn Funny (2012), created and directed by no less than Jeff Parkin (author of the groundbreaking transmedia The Book Of Gere3miah), who wrote it with Nick Thacker. It’s quite visibly branded Deseret Book.
The show centers upon a mom (ex wannabe comedian) putting together an all-female comedy troupe (well, there’s a guy, too, but his puppet is a lady), in efforts to “clean up the local comedy scene” from abuse of quick, vulgar jokes.
The group comes together quite badly assembled, but there’s space for improvement, bonding and, maybe through some necessary failure, ultimately finding a personal tone and realizing a thoughtful Jane Austen themed rap video.
It’s not for everybody: custom tailored to a mommies’ audience (episode 4 a little excessively, maybe), it’s light, positive and totally wishful thinking. But it’s nevertheless an original and fresh show, quite enjoyable.
On YouTube.

And one about podcasts: Casters

Podcast are, like nearly any form or quite of web entertainment today, a boundary territory. They’re usually closer to the of model of free radios (read: unpaid), though any podcaster will tell you that taking care of it it’s a “job” in full (money or not). But being this focus about web series, the inclusion of this show, whose characters reflect the “I do it because I care” attitude of many digital creators, is more than justified. It’s necessary.
Even more since Casters (2012), a New York based dramedy (leaning quite consistently to the drama side), it’s actually worth watching.
Written and directed by Erin Gould (a TV production coordinator), the series revolves around three twenty-somethings producing a fictional podcast (also released aside the series, as a transmedia expansion). The podcast is the gravity center of their lives, and the series waves impartially between it and them, with an immediately perceivable indie feel.
Revealing true and complex characters, touching some delicate and sensitive themes aside from the “where-do-we-go-from-here” indie favorite, Casters is a rather peculiar and unique show. Even in its format: though divided in sub-chapters for sake of web compatibility (and if you ask me, they could quite easily avoid the split), each chapter is between 30 and 60 minutes long. Plus some extras.
Full episode list here.
On the official site, YouTube and Blip.


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