Could so-called web serials be the new, uh, serials? Not just in format, of course, but in content? Take Web Serials.com’s episodic series Cataclysmo and the Time Boys, a self-deprecating, C-grade sci-fi adventure that harkens back to Buck Rogers-level corniness: it displays few signs of taking itself seriously, and the bite-sized installments seems perfect for junk food-like consumption.
A loose compilation of ideas taken from The Time Machine, Planet of the Apes, and The Terminator, Cataclysmo concerns an endless war 500 years in the sepia-toned future (the sky is all fire and ash) fought between a ragtag army of surviving humans and their mutated gorilla oppressors, with Johnny Zanzibar (Brian Walton) leading the homo sapiens in a catastrophic raid on enemy territory.
Only the heroic Zanzibar and goofy military chef Bucky Stallion (Chris Hartwell) make it out alive, and soon encounter an eye-patched, dying Zanzibar from another time and a century-hopping H.G. Welles (Nate Bell). Welles has come to tell Johnny and Bucky about Cataclysmo, an apocalyptic event in the past that has caused the horrific world of 2508. And so Johnny and Bucky travel through a warp to our present time to prevent Cataclysmo with the help, of course, of a beautiful young 21st Century woman, Samantha (Erin Sullivan).
Cataclysmo makes no effort to be “good.” This is a web series featuring men running around in gorilla suits, a terribly accented actor playing Welles with a noticeably fake mustache, laser guns that look more like Super Soakers than Star Wars weapons, and dialogue such as “This’ll make ‘em go bananas!” (as Bucky throws the fruit at two primate pursuers).
In other words, Cataclysmo is pure cheese, but at least it knows it, and for a while it’s fairly fun. Not exactly hilarious, mind you, but it might be comparable to watching children engaging in games of make believe in a playground (in fact, one of the series’ fight scenes takes place in a playground). I mean all this as a compliment, for any show that revels and takes pleasure in cheapo genre nonsense without making any excuses should be enjoyed for what it is.
But the longer Catalclysmo goes on, the more it wears out its welcome. At a certain point = perhaps around the time Welles quotes himself from The War of the Worlds while explaining to Zanzibar the importance of his mission – the series does actually show hints of taking itself seriously.
The installments become tediously longer in duration, more drawn out, and by this point in the 24-episode cycle we’ve grown bored by the utterly extraneous plot. Camp shouldn’t be such a drag. And this is where the serial format—one of the fasting growing developments on the web – is both a blessing and a curse.
At first the format suits the frivolous, disposable nature of a tongue-in-cheek venture like Cataclysmo. It makes no demand on its audience to have to see it at a certain time or even watch it for more than a few minutes at a sitting. On the other hand, it can also just keep going without much structure or sense of its own interminableness. Something that works best in small doses can also poison when administered without caution.
And now there’s a sequel: the ongoing Cataclysmo and the Battle for Earth. Are there that many people who’ve been following this story for more than a dozen episodes? If so, let me know. Somehow I think the continuation of Cataclysmo is being done more out of a lack of wanting to start a new serial than success.