It looks promising, but even at an average of three to five minutes per episode, the web series 2009: A True Story contains a helluva lot of filler.
Conceived by Tony Valenzuela with and written by him and Jeffrey Hunt during the 2007-2008 writer’s strike, 2009 hops on the post-9/11 paranoia bandwagon by fashioning a plodding tale of an Orwellian America in which civil liberties are stripped from the people under the government’s vow to do whatever it can to protect the country after a devastating terrorist attack (that occurs on 4/11/09).
Over the course of thirteen webisodes, Valenzuela and Hunt explore the madness of an increasingly militaristic and totalitarian society by following two slowly interlocking plotlines: the saga of Sara Ford (Kate Maloney), a 19 year-old survivor who meets up with two AWOL soldiers, and her brother Adam (Cody Harnish), an army specialist part of a unit sent to find and capture the escaped personnel.
Like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, Sara and Adam’s stories are told as if they were discovered “found footage” from camcorders and helmet cams capturing the action from the characters’ point of views. But whereas Witch and Cloverfield used the format to impart a disturbing sense of intimacy and cleverly stage events from unconventional vantage points, 2009 employs the gimmick to make up for its frustrating lack of content or original imagery.
Sara must own the worst home camera in the world: her footage constantly glitches, shakes, and freezes, and after a while it becomes more than apparent that the “rawness” of her recordings are merely meant to distract the viewer from the fact that not much happens while the camera’s on.
Similarly, 2009’s news reports and interviews with government officials shown on a channel called “Homeland News Services” appropriate real news reports and interviews and, by simply reframing and muddling the images with static, try to make them into something evocative of a different set of events.
It’s a strategy that is at best lazy and at worst incoherent. The “true story” counts down 85 days in random intervals until a very anti-climactic climax, and until then there’s just the LonelyGirl15-esque ramblings of the requisite hot girl Sara, who intones dialogue like, “We are the dead. Without oxygen. Still talking. Walking. Unable to move. . . . We are pearls of innocence cast among the swine. Bloody and vulgar, my brand new pair of eyes” in total earnest.
2009 has nothing substantive to say about 9/11, the Patriot Act, Guantanamo Bay, or the Bush Administration, all of which it unimaginatively and very obviously alludes to. This might have been excused if Valenzuela and Hunt had created complex and fascinating characters for the viewer to latch onto, but instead we’re given wooden, one-dimensional mouthpieces enacting a parade of clichés: the macho, subservient staff sergeant (Tom Riordan), the martyred anti-government rebel (Ron Wells), and the cracked, war-damaged soldier (Robert T. Parker).
It’s empty political commentary for the emo generation (Nine Inch Nails are unsurpringly a regular fixture on the series’ soundtrack), and with all that dead time, a great example of Woody Allen’s famous joke: “Two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of them says, ‘Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.’ The other one says, ‘Yeah, I know; and such small portions.’