It seems clear that the four college friends behind What is Joppa have had a wicked sense of humor since birth. The FM Crew (Michael “Moonman” Mooney, Thom W. Neff, Ben Therrien, and Ben Watts) write and headline this serial comedy with tremendous deadpan, enigmatic references, and bizarre storylines. With a viewership that continues to inch forward another ten thousand or so with each new season, it looks like Joppa isn’t going away anytime soon. (Although their fourth season was “revoked” by “Tbe Unicorn” after the mystery of who shot Ben Therrien was resolved. But that was more of a fun, if totally inscrutable, pre-season advertising gimmick than a departure.) And as viewership increases, so has the budget. FM Crew filmed the first three seasons back-to-back between during a few months in Massachusetts in backyards, donning cheap ties, and appropriating the “Reading Rainbow” theme as their own. Since then, their editing has reached professional quality, they wear better ties, and most of their music is now made from original Jingleboy tunes.
Each season of the show has its own distinct characteristics. In the first season, for example, episodes transition with a strange Q&A between characters and each episode in the second season is brought to you by a word spoken in the episode, Sesame Street-style. Several characters make recurring appearances throughout the seasons, including a French-speaking tree and the ubiquitous orange bouncy ball. While it might seem like a tree and an orange ball wouldn’t make for interesting characters, it’s because they’re not. They’re more like interesting plotlines. (The intense cliffhanger in season three is when Mike takes the orange ball for a “long ride.”) Bridging genres like parody, cultural satire, wordplay, pratfall physical humor, mystery, and poignant melodrama, it’s kind of like a short-form, collegiate version of Comedy Central’s “Stella,” but with a smaller budget and a little more emphasis on overarching plotlines. It’s a hard show to describe and most sites use the phrase, “Don’t ask, just watch,” when describing it. And that’s worth repeating here: Don’t ask, just watch. Once you’ve caught up on the first few seasons, make sure to check out the photo album, discussion forum, and MySpace page, purchase some merchandise, and read Ben Jervey’s reviews,
A clever disclaimer warns viewers to start their viewing with the first episode of the first season to get the full effect of Joppa. Actually, it says that starting with season three is “hazardous” and that “watching Joppa from the middle may cause some temporary brain damage,” and introduces viewers to concepts like the orange ball and the ubiquitous catchphrase “Don’t follow.” It’s a pretty awesome introduction to the humor and style of the show.