Can a man marry a web series? I want to marry Water and Power. Maybe after you vote no on Prop 8, you can do a write-in ballot that will allow me to wed this show. Water and Power is about the plight of the office worker. Taking The Office one step further into the surreal, sublime and superlatively dry, creators Dan Harmon and Ryan Ridley approach the DWP with the gravitas and a little bit of the structure of Law and Order to give us three acts in what looks like under five minutes. Finally, a successful translation of TV format to the web.
Also starring, writing and directing, this is Ryan and Dan’s first collaboration and I’m so glad they did it. Ryan, plays a man of the people in Power, a kind of good cop to Dan’s bad cop on the Water side. Ryan is bright-eyed and wants to believe that people are inherently honest and good, and gets drunk to drown his pain when he is forced to chastise an old woman and holocaust survivor for using too much water. Dan is jaded, sometimes scruffy and takes a tough stance on the abuse of power. Even insofar as making racial stereotypes in episode one that on the water side leads to tragedy and on the power side, to a revelation about Armenians and the fact that they, ‘suck power like fleas in a barnyard’. I had no idea.
Dan is one of the founders of Channel 101, the brilliantly conceived site where the viewer decides the fate of each show. Every month, a live audience screens a crop of shows old and new and votes on what will air that month. The shows chosen then have to come up with another episode for the next month so they can be voted back on. W&P has been voted back six times and as Ryan tells me, to keep it fresh, “Every month, we try to involve a guest star, engineer a clever cast change, or turn the format on its head.”
This innovating has led to a cast change in the brilliant ‘fecal riot’ episode (ep 4) a la Law and Order, with Scottie Thompson guest starring as a new female Power worker having to earn her stripes with the help of a special cork her father gave her; then again with another guest spot by none other than Channel 101 alum, and current Saturday Night Live star, Andy Samberg (among others) as an Important Cases Unit officer for Power in episode five; and finally with a genius jump-the-shark episode six, Wade Through Darkness, where office clerk Wade, played by Wade Randolph, commits suicide and has a Freud inspired dream sequence that eventually leads him back to life (incidentally the mock The Thin Red Line voiceover here is hilarious).
The work put into this innovation raises the quality significantly in my mind. These guys have a clear point of view and style and work hard at maintaining the integrity, while constantly trying to change it up. The acting is spot on, a kind of bad earnest character acting that’s restrained from hitting any jokes too hard. In fact, in a way there are no jokes, and that’s what makes it so funny. As Ryan describes it, in the beginning, “We threw a bunch of different ideas around and finally settled on doing a drama about the Department of Water & Power. We decided that we would try to find the humor in how serious we took the subject matter as opposed to the ironic use of monsters and action sequences.” Now, even he admits, they’ve veered from this a bit (see the aforementioned fecal riot episode), but the spirit remains.
I hope this show gets voted on again and again on Channel 101, but no matter its fate, other web series makers should watch this show to see a perfect translation of the television format into the web series format. Structure, theme, character, tone, and concept intact. Hell, there are some tv creators that could watch this show for a few lessons. Bravo guys. I love it. And I don’t just say that, you can ask my editors.