[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 his previous column here.]
When Ninjas Attack is a passably alright show on Hulu, magically. Hulu seems to be doing a strange one-step-forward-two-steps-back thing with their original programming. Hulu could have been a big leader in quality programming and while it holds the licenses for many great TV shows (including but not limited to King Of The Hill, Peep Show, and personal guilty favorite Kitchen Nightmares), it seems to pick style over substance – even with its admittedly trashier shows. Has anybody watched the addicting yet Orwellian If I Can Dream? While you’re free to pick any camera in any room of the house the level of cleanliness in IICD makes it come off truly like a David Lynch movie. There’s little grit in what could be a very entertaining idea. Occasionally you see someone make a sandwich, and while I’m not asking for Celebrity Rehab levels of debauchery and self immolation, it’d be nice to watch the inhabitants arc go from point A to point B.
Which brings me to When Ninjas Attack, which is a farce in the loudest and not necessarily proudest sense of the word. I watched nearly a full season and was bored by the lack of original characters and obvious humor. Nothing clicked. The show seems to pride itself on its premise and its premise alone – because nothing happened. Really. It was like watching a slightly more entertaining fire hydrant. When you’re doing a send-off of ninjas (speaking of which, this has to be the fifth show I’ve watched having to do with ninjas – what’s with the crowding of the joke/genre?) and using the same old techniques and jokes in doing so (which the other four shows have done, too, to equally dubious degree), then what seems to happen is what my 8th grade P.E teacher hammered in so hard back in the day: if you put bullshit in, you’ll get bullshit out. It’s the same tired show I’ve seen time and time before. When Ninjas Attack needs to come up with some fresh ideas, because despite the obviously fun shoot and solid effort by the actors, it doesn’t add up to a quality show.
Robot Intrigue on the other hand is a set of absurdist quickies filmed in a film noir style with non-punchlines and a very oblique sense of humor. It works where When Ninjas Attack doesn’t – not just because of the robots (which would TOTALLY WIN IN A FIGHT AGAINST NINJAS) – but it works because it tries something new. Putting WNA against ‘Robot Intrigue’ is akin to putting a spaghetti western against an early zoetrope – they’re inherently different. But at least Robot Intrigue isn’t hammerin’ the same tired nail on the head. Perhaps these two web series could combine. They could learn a lot about each other.
Bunninoir bills itself a Brazilian / Argentinean / Spanish production about a film noir detective who is also a bunny rabbit. The show does a similar thing as Robot Intrigue in it’s take-off of noir and largely succeeds – even overcoming the language barrier AND the subtitles barrier. It’s by no means Chinatown although it works, surprisingly, as a web show for being so unique.
However, it fails for the same reasons it succeeds, at least in my opinion. To play devil’s advocate: most audiences won’t watch subtitles in theaters, why the web? Why stick with the rabbit schtick the whole way through? Why use the same film noir jokes I’ve seen a hundred times before (a damsel in distress visits the office and zzzzzzzzzz…).
I have mixed feelings about Bunninoir. It SHOULD – at least by my logic – fail on the merit that it’s a tired genre in a foreign language. But watch enough episodes and it’s a subtly funny comedy wrapped in a more bawdy context. At it’s best the show resembles the more cinematic Kids In The Hall episodes and at it’s worst it merely resembles bad film noir. That said, I think that the writers and directors have something here and should maybe try to branch out a little.
DwellingI was surprised to really enjoy Dwelling. It’s a sitcom-y show with sitcom-y plotlines but the characters really resonate. It’s sort of like a very, very low budget Bernie Mac Show with more adult (read: believable) plotlines and less breaking the fourth wall. It’s the creative vison of Anthony Q. Farrell who writes, directs, and stars in this vehicle – and he does so without steering focus away from the other characters or plotlines. He convincingly plays the lead with an ‘aww shucks’ air about him that brings to mind Jon Favreau – the writer/director/star of Swingers. Both directors have a winning grip on the human elements of storytelling and with a bit of Hollywood luck Mister Farrell should find his way into that sort of company. In Dwelling he’s created a vehicle which showcases a lot of emerging talent, not least of which is his own. I look forward to seeing what he does with the series and what he does next.
THIS WEEKS MUSTARD: Dwelling