Brad O’Farrell was on YouTube’s community council, was a former YouTube guest editor, and is actively involved in YouTube’s content creation community. He’s also the Syndication Manager for My Damn Channel, and helped popularize web shows such as You Suck At Photoshop, Wainy Days, and Horrible People.
Lonelygirl15 officially ended on Friday, though you could argue the series ended over a year ago when the titular character was killed off by a man in a renaissance faire cloak, or maybe a year and a half ago when it introduced it’s own Poochie characters, Gemma and Jonas.
When Lonelygirl15 first debuted as a 16 year-old girl named Bree in the summer of ’06, a lot of chumps – myself included – thought she was a real deal video blogger. The earlier videos told the story of a teenage girl with teenage problems and her platonic male best friend making cutesie videos about scientific theories. After a few months of an engaging will-they-won’t-they story told solely from the perspective of her bedroom webcam (and the occasional handicamed hiking trip), savvy viewers started to suspect she was fake.
It was soon revealed that the whole set up was just a precursor to the “real” show, which was a sub-CW-quality web series with a bevy of poorly written teenagers running from a hokey cult. But there was a lot of clever build up to the cult story line (for example, there was an Aleister Crowley shrine visible in the background of lonelygirl15‘s bedroom the whole time, that eventually gets an “accidental” closeup) and a lot of the scientific and philosophical theories that Bree discussed were relevant to the ideas of alternate realities and the existence of an illuminati.
The fan reaction ranged from alienated to confused, but most viewers were willing to see where the ceators would take the show now that it stopped being fake, and started being fictional.
After publicly admitting the show was scripted, the creators attempted to maintain an alternate reality game wherein the characters still acted as though they were real people. But after a while promotion and branding pulled in the opposite direction, and Bree ended up stuck halfway through the fourth wall. Characters became oblivious to things posted on their own channel, including recaps and promos.
This and the series’ waning emphasis on interactivity – not Bre’s death, or the ARG storyline, or the episodes from last Friday – is what killed the show.
Even during the early occult days, Lonelygirl15 was still interesting to watch, mostly because of vigorous fan participation by fellow YouTubers. It was set in our world, and as such, we felt entitled and privileged to interact with it.
Some of the most interesting plots of the show were fan fiction stories, such as CassieIsWatching, Tachyon, Brother, OpAphid and NikkiBowerReports. All of which started unofficially and eventually became somewhat official parts of the story.
The best of which was undoubtably Tachyon, an enigmatic girl with a cool name who was in a situation similar to Bree’s (running from the same cult), but years of fleeing her captors had turned her into a badass ninja with an awesome editing style. Probably one of the most impressive moments in the Lonelygirl15 saga was when fan-created Tachyon was officaily indoctrinated into the canon:
But in the past year fan interaction (or at least, it’s ability to affect the show in meaningful ways) died down, and the installments became less a video blog and more a TV show where characters were holding the camera for no particular reason.
Once a driving force in the series, viewer participation whittled down to using decoder rings to decipher secret messages, usually along the lines of “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine.” Awkward product placement marred the already awkward script, including an uncomfortably out of place scene about Ice Breakers Sours and a painfully long story arc about a Neutrogena scientist making an acne wash that had the power to save the teens from both the murderous cult and embarrassing blemishes.
When Bree was murdered when said Neutrogena scientist failed to deliver the goods, the weak supporting characters couldn’t fill her shoes, and the cast eventually snowballed into half a dozen teenagers of dubious relevance. The story sprawled into several equally banal spinoffs, including RedEarth and KateModern. The final Lonelygirl15 video didn’t even provide closure to the series, but rather, sets us on another derivative storyline:
The ending (a crummy commercial?) showcases a problem that ruined not only Lonelygirl15, but most of the Internet – a greater focus on branding, franchising, and ‘legitimacy’ (i.e. advertising opportunities) than on exploring creative venues unique to the Internet as a medium, such as participatory culture and individual expression via social networking services and blogs.
Had the creators stayed true to their original plan of online self-documentation as a means of conveying a believable interactive story, they could’ve created something really amazing. Instead they used all of the hype surrounding the alternate reality game video blog to turn it into another TV show that you watch on your computer.
Hopefully, now that the Lonelygirl15‘s officaly dead, someone else will pick up where the series left off, and use the Internet to create a truly socially interactive story telling experience.