WestAcre concerns itself with the inept ongoings of characters at the WestAcre Centre Shopping Mall in suburban Colorado, whose name is a variation on the West Acres Shopping Center in Fargo, North Dakota. The fictional mall, as some introductory text in the first episode reveals, was once the “third most visited mall in all North America,” but has now fallen on hard times due to “luxury malls and online shopping.” But, as the opening text concludes optimistically, this situation “makes for a stimulating work environment.”
The show is the brain child of six-year mall retail veteran, Patrick Swinnea and a group of talented Colorado-based actors and filmmakers, who took a movie he and his crew were making and broke it up into serial form for web broadcast. Making its debut on April 20th, 2007, WestAcre proved right from the start to be a polished and professional sitdotcom, unsparing in its scrutiny of its various characters’ blemishes and insecurities.
WestAcre shares the aesthetic of Office Space with influences from The Office and Reno 911. Each episode follows the exploits of several characters trapped in a corporate and public service world following their fruitless, frustrating paths. First, we meet mall security guard, Harrison Roberts (Jason Henning), who doesn’t demand much respect from his colleagues. The Assistant Mall Manager is Wayne Miller (Josh Botana), a Seth Rogan sound-alike with filmmaking ambitions. Lorenzo Johnson (Neal McMillen), a 27-year-old slacker who lives with his mom, works for Frank Stirling (Russell S. Phillips), the GlobolMobol store manager, while Sara Morgan (Taiesha Anderson), the new girl in the mall, becomes the object of Lorenzo’s affections. Wayne eventually sets out to realize his dreams by making a music video for a band run by his indifferent new assistant Rohan Stevens (Ryan Arthur Kemp).
WestAcre‘s general affect can be a little flat and distant. But if the acting is occasionally uneven, the visual presentation is uniformly skillful. In addition, WestAcre overcomes a problem that usually plagues “reality”-inspired comedy shows, which is that buffoons tend to be less accepted in the real world. Here, the occasional minor rational character will be, at the very least, less than patient with the clownishness of the main characters. With each episode, WestAcre gains in complexity and, though it was once going to be simply a full-blown movie, it may prove to have a long life on the web as it continues to explore its characters.
Once the characters are rolled out, WestAcre digs into their quirks and mixes them up in a series of wry, dry, and funny situations. “Delusions” mercilessly contrasts Wayne’s fantasies of success in Hollywood with his real life, sitting and clicking a computer mouse in his barren apartment. “Good Cop Bad Cop” exposes the utter cluelessness of Harrison Roberts as a self-defined lothario.