When I watched Squatters’ sizzle reel on Dailymotion, the first thought that came to mind was “details.”
It’s a common issue with comedy web series: Shows concern themselves with nailing punchlines and coming up with the situations that their characters jump into, and then miss something so minor as a reaction shot. I’ve fallen into this trap with some of my own work—with writing the script, casting, cobbling together a crew and shooting, post-production and minor, tossed-off lines are typically rushed, so my concerns don’t stem from the armchair.
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With the first episode of Squatters, it seems to me that a show with a unique and fun hook, great cinematography, and good writing is held up in its pilot by two things: a lack of confidence in the viewer, and in its editing.
The show’s hook is simple, but allows for a scalable focus that can provide a great number of comedy opportunities – friends and roommates Hank and Alex make a bet after being evicted from their residence over being able to live in Manhattan without ever paying rent. First one to give up has to take care of the other’s deposit and first/last month’s rent when they get a new place. From the setting of New York (which for a very LA-centric web series industry, is enough to give it a strong sense of place), to the tone of the show, there’s a lot of gold to be mined here and a lot of potential for this show to be one of the great new comedies on the web.
I want to make sure that I bring out the positive now, because I really don’t want this review to appear like I’m sitting in the back of a room hurling obscenities for no reason. I want to be clear: This show has great potential, and it can be much better than where it’s at right now. I want them to succeed, because they have a great opportunity to do so and a great hook that can take them places.
The tone of the show could easily be described as “lackadaisical,” which considering the hook, should work – and for the most part, they’re getting there. Alex and Hank are at the moment archetypes, but they have the potential to become lived-in characters. What clashes with the tone is it appears our leads, while charismatic, aren’t quite comfortable in their own skins. In interviews with just about all the casts of NBC’s current crop of comedies, the one connection between all of them, what makes those comedies work at the acting level, is that they aren’t telling jokes. They’re doing ridiculous things with a straight face, and allowing the comedy to work.
Don’t get me wrong, I laughed, but there’s a discomfort in some of the performances that’s contradicting the aggressive laziness in which these characters are trying to live. The actors are trying to be funny rather than trying to be characters doing funny things. The best example of this is in Sandeep Parikh’s first scene. Parikh is easily the most over-the-top character we’ve seen so far, and yet through his performance, somehow manages to appear more realized than others. While talking about some questionable sexual practices, it’s all with a straight-face: This Is What This Guy Does. And we believe it.
The second piece that holds this show back, and it’s subtle and nitpicky, but is important: Editing. In comedy, pacing via cuts is important. The “rewind” elements of the show feel gimmicky, and haven’t really added anything to the story or jokes. In the second rewind, we only replay a line over and over and deepen Sandeep’s voice each time. However, the performances alone get across what exactly is going on in everyone’s brain before the rewind even happens. Many of the cuts in this show push lines that should be “tossed away.” They would do well to follow Jane Espenson’s recent entries on comedy about tossing away the punchlines.
It all comes down to confidence. When the Squatters creators realize that they are talented individuals who have a great hook, a great sense of place, and actors who can sell it (when they don’t try to oversell it), they will find that they have a gold mine of a show on their hands.
It’s a diamond in the rough, but with enough polish on the performance and editing side? It’ll do just fine.
Win, Fail or Trainwreck: I give it a Win, but barely. I’m going to chalk the issues up to pilotitis – it’s always tough for a show to find its voice first time out – but in subsequent episodes, I would hope to see them take some of the edges off, relax, and allow the funny to shine through, instead of pushing it.