pass the mustard - ned[Ed: This is the latest installment of our weekly web series critic column Pass The Mustard. No sugar coating, no doublespeak, no hand holding. Just brutally honest reactions from one guy: Ned Hepburn. We’ll throw a handful of web series at him each week. Agree, disagree, love him, hate him, but please don’t punch him. Got something clever to say in retort? Leave a comment below. He’ll probably read it and embarrass you later. His opinions are his own, so take them or leave them. See last week’s column here.]

This week I learned a lot about what makes web shows click. I believe that this is destiny, fate, or what have you. I have been sent here to teach you and school you in the ways of web series watching. This week we run the full gammut, from awful racist comedy to stoner sketch comedy to a (surprisingly good) comedy about a group of terrorists.

Mister Chan: Misunderstood Man

It appears we’ve come out of the baby-step stages of web shows and now the medium just needs to take the safety wheels off. I’ll be really simple right here. If you’re someone who makes web series, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who will watch this?
  • Why will they watch this? Why should I care about your show?
  • What will bring them back for more?
  • What is the focus?
  • Can I send lots of money to Ned so that he will give my show a great review? (answer: yes)

It seems basic, it seems sophomoric, but we’re still in the developing stages of web shows as an artistic medium. Consider me the ‘Rufus’ to your Bill & Ted. I will separate the wheat from the chaff as best I can, but until that point, here’s this weeks contenders.

Mister Chan: Misunderstood Man
This animated show focuses on Mister Chan and his Chinese restaurant and it’s racist and unfunny and two episodes in it’s boring. Sigh. I’m not looking for Citizen Kane here, people, but this just misses the mark entirely. It’s just sort of sad. It’s badly thought out, badly written, and so grossly unfunny it almost conversely becomes funny. Look, its shows like this that make people think webshows are a sub-par medium. People really need to stop making shows like this, because when The Wire of internet shows comes along (and it will) people will put it next to crap like this and as per the law of averages shitty shows like this will bring down the entire medium.

I’m all for bad jokes and vaguely racial humor but this misses the mark so entirely I had to – and I’m not making this up – take a walk around the block just to get back in the mood of watching more web shows.

Cookin’ Big Stuff
It’s a cooking show with a story I can’t follow and several of the characters appear to be doing a terrible British accent. It’s either done on little or no budget, and the camera is shakier than a diabetic in a candy store.

Strangely enough I enjoyed watching the show. It clearly is trying to be seven things at once but there is some promise here. Perhaps take more risks, eh guys? Rome wasn’t built in a day and all the parts of here but they’re trying very, very hard to appeal to absolutely anyone and everyone at the same time. My advice is to focus and tighten up the script and not to have the actors look like they’re acting so damn much. If I could get film-school on y’all for a second, the makers of this show are in desperate need of a more solid script or a better editor (right now, it looks like it was cut together with safety scissors and cellotape). Film is a collaborative medium; this needs a shake-up and I think it might actually work. Right now, though, it’s kind of a mess.

Ryan & Collin
They’re going for a Jake and Amir sort of vibe and make it work. Sophomoric sketches with weird punchlines appeal to a lot of people; furthermore, this show is very secure in what it is. Contrasting this with Cookin’ Big Stuff (above), it’s a night and day difference. Whereas Cookin’ Big Stuff is trying to be schticky, poignant, plot-driven and whacky at the same time, it falls apart as it (quite literally) shifts from focus to focus with every scene. Ryan & Collin, however, seem to know exactly who their audience is and play to their core. I could fault them for that, but I’ll choose not to. These stoner-sketch shows know who they’re playing to and a lot of these other shows seem to be reaching so far to reach the largest audience possible. That is old media thinking, and new media should be taking a page from the stoner comedy playbook. Find a niche, and play to them. Don’t try to be so many things that I stop giving a fuck.

Living With The Infidels
This is what I’m talking about. This is a very well done show that is niche enough for me to want to understand the niche. The show revolves around a group of “terrorists” in England – a subject that might be a little too sore for some – but it’s well written and doesn’t try to pander to its audience. The acting is good and not forced. It’s simple without being shallow. The actual subject matter of the show (well, terrorism, right?) might put viewers off, but as a web show it totally works. God damn. I just wish this was a little more accessible to the rest of the world. Even I was a bit unnerved hearing about bombs going off. Alas, it’s still leaps and bounds ahead of most web shows. I expect more from whoever made this, perhaps a little less on the blowing-stuff-up, though.

This week’s mustard: Living With The Infidels

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