Even though genres hybridization is not exclusive domain of web series, it’s there where it can more often and freely happen.
Partly because, on the medium Internet, we still carry on a more active and exploratory fruition (even when we stream scripted video) and a too conventional or derivative content can result in a quick escaping mouse click; hybridization, in this context, can work as a trick to capture watchers’ attentions in that initial, crucial moment.
Most importantly, because of the creative freedom (so far) associated with this form, that allows creators to explore and exploit more ways to differentiate their works above the always increasing background noise).
And, if you like, because of the quite usual belonging to the indie territory, where creators are much at ease in finding their own personal blend; helped, on the web, by the possibility of a more broad niche targeting.
So, genre hybrids are what I’ll be focusing on in the next bunch of articles. I’ll proceed from simple to complex.
Starting here with comedy, the more malleable and easy to contaminate genre, I will take a departure from my usual blueprint, with half of the article dedicated to a general overview and a second concentrating on a little number of series, so to speak, out of the box. This is mainly because of the subjective nature of comedy and the predominance of the genre in web video, both of them not matching quite well the usual descriptive pattern I follow.
Hybrid comedies in web series: a general view
Horror. Horror ones are quite likely the most popular cross-genre comedies in the web space, partly as a consequence of the many standardized sub-topics the genre offers.
Most of what I’ve seen takes the easiest way: some form of parody or overturn of established figures; vampire comedies, zombie apocalypse parodies, some “meta” tales about famous monsters living in present times… By and large, the results are as unoriginal and not compelling as the approach is. Some interesting series, among the few I saved in my bookmarks, are Suck and Moan (vampires threatened to death by starving because of a zombie pandemic) and the clever Playing Dead (where an unemployed and not-so-young-anymore actress accepts a job from Death itself).
Sometimes, two or more threads are sawed together, making things a little more interesting.
As a proof of the sub-genre popularity, even Hollywood has tried it, with the painfully useless Wolfpack of Reseda.
Science fiction. Sci-Fi comedy seems to be more popular than pure Sci-Fi itself, online. Less standardized than most of horror comedy, probably because science fiction topics and sub-genres concern settings (e.g. post-apocalypse, space travel, etc.) more than iconic figures and character types.
We have time travel parodies (e.g. The Future Machine, My Future Girlfriend, Hollywood Wasteland), space comedies (Space Janitors, The Crew, the clever, surreal Hurtling Through Space At An Alarming Rate!, the hilarious Solo – The Series) and, of course, more or less direct classics’ parodies (the vintage and soapy Space Hospital, with a hint at a generation of shows like Star Trek and Space 1999; the Star Wars parody Pink 5).
Fantasy. Since classic, Tolkien-roleplay-derived fantasy is not my bag (and on-line fantasy even less, with its cheap props and mud-proof costumes even after a night spent in a forest), taking a stand on comedy with that direct reference is difficult, to me. I like the genre in its free expressions but when it comes to that stuff, it’s a black hole (that’s probably my rejection to established models at work, again).
It seems evident, though, that the genre already possesses active contaminations between narrative and games (roleplay or videogame) and that parodies can rely to this cross-relation, taken as granted by fans, and exploit it creatively. This happens in works such as Walking In Circles (relying on classical game figures but with a curious – though not organic – insertion of mockumentary/reality format) and, if you like easy crass humor, The Legend Of Neil (mainly a game-inspired parody).
Superheroes. Another field I don’t belong. In my book, superheroes are more at ease in glossy printed paper than in any other medium except, maybe, animation. Not by chance, on-line comedies about superheroes frequently keep a certain comic book taste or follow a storyline winking to a classic, old times comics narrative (instead of adopting the dramatic reinvention typical of movie adaptations). Being parodies allows them to exaggerate some elements that, at times, are already clichés themselves. That can be a plus, for their niche; it’s definitely a minus, for me. So, I’ll skip on these.
If you wanna try for yourself, some titles well received are Generic Girl, Chick, Tights and Fight and, of course, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.
Crime and cops. This subgenre seems to be a little less exploited. I already mentioned the clever and hilarious miniseries Darla, about a young serial killer acting out of social annoyance. But that’s a happy exception to a common practice where, again, genre parody prevails. We have mob-crime parodies (e.g. Octane Pistols of Fury, Whacked), cop parodies (Lesbian Cops) and even some vintage cop movie/show or grind-house parody (Meter Man, Matchstick McCoy)
Paranormal Investigations. Mocking that bunch of TV shows showing (or enacting) paranormal investigations could be a one-shot idea; it turns out, there’s a sort of mini-genre dedicated to that. The premise is almost always the incompetence and dumbness of self professed paranormal detectives.
Musical. Even TV musicals have their own on-line parodies. If you like, watch Private High School Musical, written by and starring Taryn Southern. No need to say more.
SF combo: Status Kill and The End
My two picks for SF are in fact three, with Raptured already covered in the post-apocalypse themed article (also my favorite).
They are not necessarily the most LOL series out there but they outstand for an original concept.
Status Kill (2010; 2012) is created and directed by Jesse Cowell (author of Draw By Pain and director of content for My Damn Channel, that hosts the show).
It mixes SF comedy with Internet comedy (if that genre ever exists), depicting a future in which a professional hi-tech military operative has some huge social media addiction issues (as well as his targets, not unusually). If the technology is advanced enough to allow perfect connections everywhere and anytime, old habits die hard and can lead to a catastrophe when bothering you right before pulling the trigger.
The brilliant first season is made of three short (5 minutes) episodes, following a continual story line; unfortunately, the second one, launched this summer, focuses on a new situation every new episode (a direct parody of typical hideous social network issues), ending up be a little too dispersive (and brief).
Season One on Cowell’s YouTube channel; Season Two on My Damn Channel’s YouTube page.
The End (2011) is a “little” web series directed by Jason Marsh, written by Peter Harmon and produced by Bryan Mayer, all of them independent filmmakers.
It mixes a post catastrophic setting (machines uprising à la Terminator or Matrix) with sketch comedy.
Each short episode brings in some topic, object or trend from the now fallen society, transforming it in a total out of context conversation, with fatal results. The two leads act as a comedic duo with opposite and incompatible attitudes (practical vs. naive), creating a stall that ignites the sketches themselves. Each episode starts with the same line, acting as a catchphrase.
It’s rough, and cheaply produced. But different and unconventional.
21 very short episodes, on YouTube and Blip .
Horror combo: Vampire Zombie Werewolf and Undead Diares
Vampire Zombie Werewolf (2010), directed by digital indie filmmaker Robb Padgett (of Life From Inside), it’s produced by his KATR Pictures and created together with the other two main actors, Tanya Ihnen and Steven Lekowicz. Notably, Padgett composes the witty score, as well.
This one is probably the most “crossed” horror comedy you can find. Here, the lead characters, due to a series of unlikely and silly events, find themselves being vampire-zombie-werewolf hybrids; and suffering from inferiority complex (vampires don’t like mixed blood). Committed to climb the vamps social ladder, they plan to produce an original show (vampires are notably snobbish as well as bored, and constantly craving entertainment). Add a setting like Los Angeles and a closed, exclusive vampire community clearly hinting at the Hollywood’s one, and the “show” being in fact a web series commissioned to a director specialized in derivative monster stories… and you have an idea of the kind of “meta” pastiche we’re dealing with (in a good way).
Though not a perfect series (especially in costumes), VZW is nevertheless more subtle and clever than you’d expect, with a pretty tasty richness in details.
On KoldCast, YouTube and the Official web site.
The Undead Diaries (2010) is yet another vampire comedy with a peculiar perspective.
Created and written by actress Angelique Mechel (also starring), directed by Greg Thompson (active in shorts and theater and, as actor, also on TV), it deals with the classic theme of transition and follows two close friends, formerly horror geeks, newly transformed and living together, trying to adapting to the new cycles, needs and turn-downs.
One of the main catches of the series is exactly this play on vamp stereotypes, seen as contrasts between geek’s expectations and harsh, when not trivial, reality and taking place either in goofy outdoor moments or in lazy indoor interludes.
The format is curious (part live action, part a mockumentary-thing that seems interview or vlog) but incoherent (the blend is not justified anyhow); nevertheless, it works and goes on fluidly episode after episode.
Two seasons, 18 episodes, around 5 minutes each.
Fantasy: Standard Action
As said before, fantasy is not my territory.
So, the fact that I actually liked Standard Action (2011) in full may be an additional indicator of its one-of-a kind status. Or maybe not.
A self-defined “fantasy-comedy web series for geeks of all kinds”, it has in fact enough stratifications and original wits to go beyond the simple comedic exploitation of a canon. And the best part is that you don’t see them coming.
It starts as yet another fantasy spoof with canonical figures (elf, bard, druid, sorcerer) and random jokes but ultimately ends up following a stronger storyline with an interesting, slightly cross-genre and partly “meta” background that allows unusual contaminations (like the brilliant mime “possession”) and makes room for a certain character development (better: discovery).
Plus, for once, it’s well done. Elf ears still look fake and music is clearly made on the cheap, but costumes and cinematography are above par; while the writing is clever, witty and rich in self-irony, achieving balance between substance of content and light touch in narrative.
The series is created and produced by Canadian actress Johanna Gaskell, who wrote it with director Rob Hunt, independent filmmaker and special effects artist. Gaskell keeps for herself the most lovable role, too: the clumsy but kind of wise barbarian elf.
13 episodes, around 10 minutes (but long credits) for Season One. Season Two coming.
The best way to watch it is to start from the official web site.
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