My NPR adventure: Watching YouTube's WIGS and Yahoo!'s Suit Up! push boundaries of web series
Not long ago, the words "web video series" brought a particular vision to mind: Low production values. A D.I.Y. look that seemed shot with a camcorder or webcam, even when it wasn't. And an eccentric, almost anti-TV focus aimed at creating a new kind of programming online.
But there's a change under way. Developed by a few of the biggest names in television and film, some online series have a production level matching anything on cable or broadcast TV. Next year, major series such as Netflix's revival of Arrested Development and its Kevin Spacey show House of Cards will debut solely on streaming video, extending the trend.
Before those big titles drop, here's a sample of couple of great web only shows hat I talked about this week on NPR. It's only going to get better from here.
Ruth and Erica; YouTube's WIGS channel. Developed as a channel filled with original shows led by female characters, WIGS has a growing roster of web series, each distinguished by the name of its lead character. Ruth and Erica is a poignant tale featuring ER alum Maura Tierney as Erica, a middle-aged woman whose lovable dad Harry (Philip Baker Hall), is suffering from dementia. Lois Smith (Sookie's grandmother on True Blood) is her steely mother Ruth, a woman dealing with the decline of her longtime partner first with denial and later with growing dread.
WIGS' best work offers details about characters doled out slowly, in tiny touches. We learn Harry might be having cognitive problems when he insists Erica call an infomercial host on the TV they're watching for a date; we suspect Erica is dating a married man (Wings alum Steven Weber) when we see a ring on his finger, but he can't remember the name of Erica's father.
Suit Up! Yahoo! Screen. This is an amazing, dry comedy about a brutal crisis management expert who becomes an unwilling and inexperienced athletic director at a university in the South mired in scandal. Doesn't sound funny, I know. But Marc Evan Jackson plays crisis manager Jim Dunnigan as a corporate smoothie so ruthless, he recommends firing the CEO who hired him in a previous job. When he tries to cut a booster loose from the university for giving an illegal gift to a quarterback (actually, a pig), the athletic director quits instead and Dunnigan, who knows nothing about college sports, must step up.
Cybergeddon; Yahoo! Screen. Here's where all that experimentation can go wrong. Developed by CSI creator Anthony Zuiker, Cybergeddon is the story of an ambitious, behind-kicking, beautiful cybercrime specialist for the government made to look like a master hacker by a guy she once arrested. It's an ambitious show which unfortunately unfolds like a lot of people shouting as each other in mysteriously lit rooms.