Here’s how to turn any show into an instant comedy sensation: make at least half the characters really dumb, and have them talk into the camera. Presto! Your own version of The Office.
This is an especially popular formula in the world of web shows, as evidenced by The Crew, a sci-fi mockumentary that imagines what Star Trek might have been like if the engine room was run by a bunch of regular joes who take their jobs about as seriously as you do (I assume you’re reading this at work).
The Crew is set on the USS Cesarius, a massive spacecraft in the tradition of the Enterprise. Unlike the Enterprise, however, we never see the bridge, where all the action presumably happens. Instead, the entire series takes place behind the scenes, in the engine room.
Since this is the future, the ship seems to pretty much run itself, and much of the engine crew’s time is spent standing around, starring at monitors. When something does go wrong, they react with nervous confusion, and fumble through the manual.
The show’s similarities to The Office appear to be intentional, right down to the incompetent authority figure (whoa, deja vu! ). Philip Bache plays Tom Wilkinson (no relation) head of the Engine Room who’s appointment appears to have been the result of a clerical error.
The Crew also has a Tim/Jim-like character actually called Tim, played by writer-director Brett Register. His performance is a mixed bag; he’s got the comic deadpan down, but a unfortunate tendency to mumble his lines. The object of his star-crossed office romance is played by Amy Kline, who is appealing but also lacks professionalism in her acting. The romantic-tension between these two is absolutely hammered into you for most of Episode 2, so if you have any sort of resistance to romcoms, you might find yourself pulling back from your screen.
The show’s standout performer is Craig Frank, who’s relaxed and natural sense of comic timing is apparent from his very first moment in the opening credit sequence. He plays Patrick, a slacker electrician with some hints of mental instability whose interview segments claim most of the LOLs, and who almost makes the show worth watching all by himself.
Episode 4 introduces a fun character in Stuart, a sanitation offer with high hopes of dating outside his league with the ships snobby receptionist (sorry, Transportation Officer). This is kind of a cute short film within itself, and it’s charm is evidenced by it’s YouTube view count, the highest of the entire series.
The production values are impressive for an independent production, with believable CG backgrounds that would be even better with sound design, which is almost completely absent from the show; without futuristic hums and beeps, it all feels a little sound stagey. Still, the cinematography does its just of making the cast look good, and the focus here is on the comedy and performaces, not effects.
The Crew‘s style of humor is nothing new, but then again, the formula is so popular because it really does work. There are solid laughs in every episode, and the series achieves the difficult trick of actually improving as it moves along. There are more jokes that have to do with office politics than sci-fi cliches, so even non-geeks may find the jokes hitting home.
Check it out at TheCrew.tv.