In the two previous articles (here and here) I’ve focused upon gross-genres comedies. As said, comedy has a natural tendency to marry other genres, topics or tropes, thus we don’t even perceive them as blending genres works, at times.
But the moment we take things seriously, or we deliberately throw more ingredients in the mix, is when cross-genre really becomes evident. And when, in my book, the most compelling, interesting and artistically meaningful (or, at least, weird enough) works come to life.
So, here you have my personal favorites among cross-genre web series.
They’re grouped by “main” genres for sake of organization, but of course that is debatable.
Here I’ll touch hybrids of dance, noir, western and adventure genres.
There are two reasons for starting off with dance; and they’re both called “LXD”. First, that series is a true surprising and original work; second (but a minor one), it’s considered to be the first (and only, so far) “blockbuster web series”.
The LXD (The Legion Of Extraordinary Dancers) (2010) is a stunning web series blending dance, fantasy and super-heroes.
Multi-awarded show, created and written by Jon M. Chu (known for Step Up 3D), choreographed by Harry Shum Jr. (Mike Chang on Glee) and Chris Scott, is co-directed by Chu and other skilled directors. It’s produced by Agility Studios (LA) and distributed by Paramount Digital Entertainment. Sponsored by Puma, just in case you wondered where did the money come from.
The show was born out of Chu’s desire to showcase the amazing talent of the dancers he met making movies; a talent rooting in underground dance clubs but never making it to mainstream entertainment, in its pure form.
Staging a classic “good versus evil” battle, it features super-heroes fighting for the world’s destiny. With dance. And it’s not a metaphore: to be pricky and a little nerdy, that’s how they unleash their superpower, the “Ra”. Of course, you can read it at many, overlapping levels, including a symbolic/metaphoric one (my favorite, you know it), where dance, as in “regular” dance shows, is the stylization of a real, more brutal fight; but it works at a literal level, primarily. And you buy it.
Sure, to hybridize dance is a sly move. The series ends up appealing to two very different audiences (the dance junkies and the sci-fi-fantasy-superheroes geeks – or, at least, the most high brow ones), putting them together. But nevertheless, this is something “you don’t see on TV”.
Despite claiming a “low budget” (better, a “not huge” one, quite likely higher than the average web series has) LXD is visually outstanding. Even more surprisingly, no special effects or wires were used: choreography and stunts are real. Mainly, there’s no dialogue, just voice over and the evocative power of dance.
It’s divided in three thematic seasons: the good, the evil, the battle. Every episode features a different character and a different dance style, cleverly incorporated into the narrative. So far, the series is available on Hulu or on DVD, while is being released worldwide, one region at a time, old Hollywood school (yep, it sucks).
Avengers of Xtreme Illusions (AXI for short, 2011) is another awarded show that puts dance on unusual settings. It would be easy to tag it as a LXD clone, if we didn’t know that the creator, Texas based dance teacher, choreographer, photographer and movie director Shawn Welling, is creating off-Broadway shows with the same look and feel since 1999, as well as making movies to empower dance (the most notable example is 2006 half-documentary The House Of Dreams, where a multicultural dance studio in Houston fights a campaign to shut it down at City Hall and dance scenes in different styles are integrated throughout the film).
Again, AXI was created out of the desire to bring the art of dance in a cinematic setting (but “not for financial profit or gain”, this time).
And again, the series blends dance and a vague sci-fi/fantasy setting where the future of the planet is at stake. Here we have the chronicles of the war between a Dark Army (aiming to global overthrow) and an organization of heroes, AXI. The format is anthological as well: each episode follows a different Avenger’s story, played by a famous dancer performing a different style of dance; mainly or totally dialogue free.
Though showcasing high visual values and fascinating choreographies, the series lacks LXD’s multi-layering of literal and symbolic plans; instead, here everything looks like an action-ballet in real environments, with dance working on a symbolic plan.
The series is quite heterogeneous in format: it features six chapters but the number V, The Legend of Darkhorse County, is actually a full feature film.
Some chapters are available on YouTube.
We know that noir genre is not new to contaminations of some sort, even in traditional media; the most popular example being Ridley Scott’s masterpiece Blade Runner (major references for the sci-fi-noir 2009 web series Aidan 5 – already discussed here).
More directly hinting to noir clichés are other minor series like Dead End City (2009, unfinished), a kind of alternative reality noir with zombies, and Hamilton Carver: Zombie P.I., which, I guess, it’s quite self explanatory.
But a couple of shows stand out for a really unusual blending: one, involving soap opera; the other… well, see for yourself.
Milgram and the Fastwalkers (2012, ongoing) in a quite atypical blend of noir, sci-fi (aliens) and soap opera (a genre not new to contaminations, on the web: just look at the 2005 mystery supernatural soap California Heaven or to the 2006 mystery-but-practically-soap Sam Has Seven Friends). You can call it UFO soap, for short.
The series is the solo effort by Richard Cutting (who created, wrote, directed and produced it, also starring as the lead), New York based writer and actor in movies, TV and theater, with a long time interest in ufology. “Life turns on a dime in a non-rational way every day in soaps and in ufology. UFOs ARE the longest running soap opera” he said.
The show follows an internationally prominent psychologist becoming progressively obsessed with alien abductions cases when a new client, corporate lawyer, starts a process of discovery that will lead to unveil alien presence.
Few episodes have been released at the time of this writing, appearing to be promising and well done but not giving away a great deal of the story.
The soap element is clearly evident in the depiction of the characters’ private life and issues.
Season One is a 12-episode story arc (shooting ended on august). Several seasons of already-scripted episodes are planned.
On YouTube and Koldcast.
[Edit: when I wrote this article only a few episodes had come out. The “noir” element was present in the pilot but is kinda blurred as the series goes on – so far at least. Nevertheless, the show has prove itself worthwhile].
Here I am, playing the “weird” card.
The Immoral Dr. Dicqer (2010) is for sure among the strangest scripted shows you can stumble upon on-line.
Directed by Lindsey Schmitz, written with Brad Lusher, produced by Jan Anderson from LongShadow Productions (LA), it’s described as an “Adult Animated Fantasy Noir Comedy”.
It appears to me more a dystopian, sci-fi (alternate world), crime/noir story with a bit of social awkwardness and a David Lynch surrealistic approach in the costumes (Rabbits).
Set “in the distant future of 1986”, it follows a former pirate turned family man and gynecologist with dubious ethics, facing old enemies’ revenge.
Despite an constant “wtf is going on” feeling (or, maybe, thanks to that) and a lot of details seeming to be put there just to “make it weird”, the series holds a certain fascination (if you are in the mood for it) for its visual ambiguity.
Cheap props and masks bring on an almost theatrical feel, calling for a huge suspension of disbelief; either if they’re supposed to represent real, anthropomorphic mutated people or if they work on a pure symbolic level (you decide). Same thing for the forced mix between animated backgrounds an live actors: it’s not simple “green screen”, since the images are heavily manipulated; partly, of course, to disguise a certain poverty of means but partly in accordance with the surrealist approach of the whole series’ aesthetics.
The company also describes it as a ½ hour TV pilot (!), that at least “justifies” the unconcluded plot and the unexplained details.
You can watch it, at your own risk and hallucinatory delight, on YouTube and KoldCast.
Western is not extremely practiced in web series, though there are some pretty popular (and awarded) series around. Consequently, hybrids are rare too.
The peak is by all means The West Side (2008), an Webby Award winner urban western (with a little sci-fi in it) written, produced, directed by independent filmmakers Ryan Koo and Zack Lieberman.
Set in an alternate universe, it melds together the grit of a (sub)urban setting with the typical American Western’s narrative: stranger gunmen, saloons, deadly duels and the sense of a shacking absence of law; all of this taking place in a contemporary, desolated and overbuilt environment.
A beautiful black and white photography strengthens the-out-of-time feeling that pervades the work.
Unfortunately, it gets interrupted after the fourth episode (of the twelve originally planned), mainly due to the project’s economical unsustainability.
You can see them only on the official site (until is up, of course).
Other interesting (though not striking) contaminations of the western genre in web series, are the following: Western X (2010), strange (and confused) blend of western and sci-fi (combination not new to readers of mangaka Leiji Matsumoto); Fallout Nuka Break (2011), that shares the same recipe, but it’s a delirious comedy; and two series that transplant typical western dynamics into a post-apocalyptic setting: Drifter, Broken Road (2012) and, to a lesser extent, Lady Wasteland (2007).
Last but not least, an interesting mélange of action and spy movies à la James Bond with elements from puppet series and more.
Danger 5: The Diamond Girls (2011) is a web-only prequel to Australian vintage TV Series Danger 5.
Written and created by TV writers Dario Russo (also director and co-producer) and David Ashby (also starring), the whole series is produced by Dinosaur and Cyan Films companies.
As far as the web series in concerned, for once it’s not a cheap “companion” marketing tool (Hollywood style) but a regular episode split into web chapters, sharing the same production values and actors.
The series, pretty light hearted, blends together war and spy movies, sci-fi (alternate universes) and that peculiar kind of world-saving super-teams in the fashion of Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds (the male character outfits, the title lettering, and the miniature models and explosions directly “quote” to the Supermarionation classic).
The series follows a group of five international spies on a mission to kill Adolf Hitler but is set in the Sixties of an alternate world where WW2 is still undergoing. The costumes, sets and even the music mimick the vintage Sixties style.
The prequel can be seen on YouTube and, of course, on DVD with the complete series.
- Blending genres in web series (2): mockumentaries and found footage
- Blending genres in web series (1): comedies
- Like in future, good old days (2): science fiction web series that “go vintage”