The new CBS web-exclusive series, Clark and Michael (Tilzy.TV page) has received some considerable praise from around the blogosphere. It’s highly recommended by Steve Bryant and Laughing Squid, the Collider calls it “bits of comedy gold”, and Karina Longworth says, “it’s funnier than 90 percent of the intentionally funny videos on the internet.”
Yes, it is that good. But it’s interesting to note that Longworth ended her positive analysis with a single criticism: “If there’s one fatal flaw here, it’s that the show’s pace is too slow for its distribution context. If CBS is smart, they’ll hire a kid from YouTube to cut the remaining episodes…”
For those of you uninitiated with the series, it’s a new mockumentary-style sit-dot-com (web sitcom) that follows two young producers, (MichaelCera of Arrested Development and his real-life friend, Clark Duke), as they try to pitch a show in Hollywood. Episodes are released weekly and run from 6-11 minutes. “It’s ‘Arrested Development’ meets ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ meets ‘The Hardy Boys’ meets hilarity,” exclaims Albert Ching, yet another of the many reviewers that have taken a liking to the series.
After reading Longworth’s criticism about pacing, I initially thought that she’s simply not giving web viewers enough credit. Sitdotcoms are making the move from user-generated “You-tube shorts” to more “sophisticated” webisodics, and viewers will move forward with them. People will be willing to “sit through” shows with longer running times and slower pacing, provided the material is quality enough. Just as television viewers outgrew the laugh track, web viewers too will graduate from “talking-head video blogs” to something more complicated, perhaps slightly less accessible at first, but in the long run more fulfilling.
More on what Clark and Michael is and isn’t doing for entertainment on the web after the jump…
### But then I asked myself what it actually means for a sitdotcom to become more sophisticated. What might a web show look like that would make me shout out, “The sitdotcom has arrived!”? Would it look like Arrested Development meets Curb meets Hardy Boys and so on…or am I not sufficiently thinking outside the box?
This brings me to something else Longworth notes in her review: “Clark and Michael’s network genesis shines through…Production values aside, there’s nothing in the first episode that marks Clark and Michael as a product of online video culture.”
Virginia Heffernan of The New York Times echoes this sentiment in her recent column, Mocking Stars and Beer Ads. Yawn calling many of the new shows and shorts she sees on sites like FunnyOrDie and Superdeluxe “fake television,” rather than true online series.
So why is Clark and Michael on the Internet anyway?
True, it’s about 10 minutes too short for television, yet co-star Clark Duke admits on the show’s blog that he and Cera were pushed into making shorter episodes: “You have no idea how many people said to us, “Make ’em shorter! The kids on The Internet will never watch anything over a couple minutes long!”
Perhaps the show’s a little too “niche,” as The Hollywood Reporter declares, “It’s hard to see this show appealing to anyone who doesn’t live in Los Angeles or New York, or have a deep interest in the media creation process.”
Still, I think at times we look at the evolution of web shows backwards, that the mark of a more sophisticated online series is that it’s good enough to be on television, rather than it more fully uses the Internet for what it’s good for: interactivity, social networking, community-building, experimentation, etc.
TV producers seem to be treating the web as just another way to reach that sought-after 18-35 male demographic that’s watching less and less television, when in fact they should be seeing it for what it really is – an entirely new medium, with different rules, restrictions and freedoms.
So I ask again – what will the quintessential web sitcom look like? I’m not sure. Perhaps Something to Be Desired has the right idea, allowing user comments to affect future storylines. Just finishing its whopping fourth season, writer/producer, Justin Kownacki, invites his audience to throw out ideas for season 5.
Don’t get me wrong, Clark and Michael is super funny. The acting is natural, and I think the subtly and awkwardness of the slower pacing works well with a style that Cera’s obviously well accustomed to. Like The Office, this show too uses the camera as a window into those ugly moments the characters would rather us not see, which are usually the funniest (Cera yelling in a bathtub after someone criticized his script is gold). And judging from the copious comments from the first few episodes, viewers don’t mind the pacing either. In fact, there are multiple complaints that the show should be longer.
Considering Curb is on HBO (that doesn’t count as TV, right?) and Arrested Development was cancelled after three seasons, perhaps it’s true that network television isn’t ready for Clark and Michael and the web is its perfect home until television viewers catch up. Still, you have to call this a sitdotcom by coincidence, and I’m still waiting to see what happens when content producers truly begin to take advantage of what the internet can do.