As the LonleyGirl15 ruse proved, the videoblogger-as-narrator device can be tremendously effective on the small screen. For one, it takes away the expectations of traditional “big media” storytelling. It lets the audience get up close and personal with the protagonist who hopefully wins us over before getting down to the real nuts and bolts of the larger storyline.
The 50-episode webseries, Gemini Division takes advantage of this tried and true new media trend, and the producers have good reason to hedge their bets – the show represents NBC’s biggest plunge into the world of original online content. It features genuine movie star Rosario Dawson, creators with a built-in fanbase, integrated product placement, and the sheer muscle of a major television network.
But is it any good? Actually, yes.
The plot of Gemini Division has been compared to Blade Runner because the first two episodes and an unpleasant trailer indicate some similarities (sci-fi futuristic detectives in dark color tones try to uncover a conspiracy as to who’s human and who’s not). But the tone of Gemini Division is so different it makes such comparisons negligible. Where Ripley Scott offered noir motifs and a hard-boiled protagonist, Gemini Division is literally centered on a very different sort of cop.
As Detective Anna Diaz, Rosario Dawson narrates the story directly to the viewer in the familiar style of a webcam confessional. The viewer is placed in the role of Anna’s confidant and best friend. Even those not overly impressed by Dawson’s feature work may find themselves won over by her portrayal of Diaz. I was.
She neatly saves pages of so-so dialogue with a natural, intimate inflection that makes lines like “I feel like I’m a roller-coaster, and I hate roller-coasters” believable.
That’s not to say the story doesn’t carry it’s own weight. As Anna relates to us in galpal fashion, Nick – her slightly Lance Bass-looking boyfriend – has just swept her off her career-girl feet, jetted her off to Paris, and popped the big question. Ah, l’amour!
But one video message later, there’s been an incident. Turns out Nick sleeps with his eyes open, won’t let doctors touch him, and may be prone to random acts of violence (i.e. strangling his fiance). Also he beeps when he goes through a metal detector.
Far be it for me to spoil anything with conjecture, but I think this is where the Blade Runner stuff comes in. The first episode ends with a good cliffhanger, and succeeds in making the viewer quick to click for Episode 2.
The creatives behind Gemini Division are the sci-fi gurus at Electric Farm Entertainment. This is the same production co. that created AfterWorld, a very impressive cult webseries with a similar first-person narrator. I found that series to be full of captivating ideas about the future and survival, but the dry and clinical execution seemed needlessly alienating. They’ve solved this problem handily in Gemini Division with the video-diary gimmick, and the slick and suspenseful pace of AfterWorld remains.
At the end of the second episode, we’re left wondering where this series will take us. Will it explore the question of whether a human can love an android? Will Anna discover that she too is a robot programmed not to know that she’s a robot? Or will she run around the globe trying to uncover a vast government conspiracy?
I have my suspicions. But given the talent involved and amount riding on this series, I’d expect a few surprises, too.