Cheers took half a year to become the show we all remember and love. Seinfeld took an entire season to find its groove. New series often need your patience as they figure out what they are, and if you hang in there you might just be rewarded with truly unique programming. New TV shows these days tend to be cancelled before ever firing on all cylinders, but this is the web and we do things a little different here. My experience with The Fast Foodie is a great example.
The Fast Foodie is a comedy mockumentary starring Jerry Duppa (Hannes Phinney), “America’s preeminent fast food journalist.” Each episode follows Jerry, almost always from inside his trusty Volvo, as he scours the streets in search of fast food delicacies to write about on his blog. The series is the creation of writer-producer-director-editor-hyphenate Matthew Bardocz who shares the writing duties with Phinney, and is produced independently on what appears to be a shoestring budget.
I was excited when I first heard the concept. In a world filled with Yelps and Chowhounds, we all know “foodie” types who fetishize Korean BBQ and obsess over where to truly find the country’s best crab cakes, and this seemed like the perfect way to satirize them. But unfortunately the first four or five episodes disappointed me. Sure, Jerry ate lots of fast food, but I didn’t feel the foodie element. He just talked about how he enjoys a McRib (eww) or a Butter Burger (double eww), but not in that elitist nitpicky way in which real foodies boast about how only they know where to find the most authentic fish tacos in the Southwest.
Phinney did a fine job playing the title character and was very believable as a man who spends his life moving from drive-thru to drive thru, but these early scripts weren’t giving him much to sink into. The often feel like Bardocz just pointed a camera at him, said “improvise some stuff about salads” and then tried to edit together the best one-liners (which might just be what actually happened). The production values were on the low end as well, with a single camera in the Volvo’s passenger seat framing the unlit Phinney who was often completely silhouetted by background daylight.
But there were elements I liked too – Jerry’s only human interaction being with drive-thru window clerks, his doctor warning him to stop eating the very fast food he reviews, and Phinney’s acting in general. So I kept watching, and by the time episode 6 (below) rolled around, there was a noticeable jump in quality.
First off, it just looked better. The camera got out of the passenger seat to cover more angles, the silhouetting problem was fixed, and it was assembled more professionally in general. But the biggest improvement was the writing. Episode 6 starts off with Jerry getting a Facebook message from a woman in Canada suggesting he try a north-of-the-border specialty called poutine, which is fries covered in beef gravy and cheese curds. Like a real foodie, Jerry is thrilled by the idea of new and exciting fast food and drives all the way to Canada for a taste. But we soon realize his reasons for such a trek had more to do with meeting up with the woman herself. He leads a lonely life and was hoping for an actual person to connect with. By the end of the episode you really feel sorry for him, hitting that elusive “funny with heart” combination so many shows try for.
Whether or not The Fast Foodie becomes the next Cheers still remains to be seen. But if it keeps on this path, it might just become a web series you look forward to every week. All it needs is your patience.