A few months back the story was the Hulu deal, how a brand like Mattel could skip the TV networks all together, backing a half-hour reality show at a fraction of the cost without sacrificing the reach. It was groundbreaking in concept, the first half-hour on Hulu’s still modest list of web-only originals—but inevitably this day would come too. Today the 8-episode series Genuine Ken debuts on Hulu, pulling back the veil to see just pioneering this thing really is.
I’m going to preface this with the blanket caveat that this show wasn’t made for me—I’m not the young aspirant woman with a nostalgia for my Barbie days and a fondness for reality TV that Genuine Ken is targeting. But I did manage to get a hold of three full episodes early for the purposes of diving in and sorting out where the state of the art is in web TV.
The setup is, for better or worse, the standard competition reality format, drifting somewhere in between The Apprentice and Project Runway. Its purebred name is Genuine Ken: The Search for the Great American Boyfriend, plucking eight would-be ideal boyfriends against each other in hope of finding the prototypical ‘Genuine Ken.’ In the show’s amusing tongue-cheek fashion, they group are all given pet names vaguely tied to each suitor’s traits: Crooner Ken, Dreamer Ken, Compassionate Ken, All Ameri-Ken?—even Gawker took a shot at the nicknames while handicapping the race.
The anchor of the show is young fashionista Whitney Port, fresh off her residency at MTV on The City and its predecessor, The Hills. If she’s the show’s Heidi Klum, then the ravishing Lauren Bruksch, Mattel’s Director of Barbie Marketing, is its Nina Garcia. The show teeters the line of poking fun at reality fare and full board emulation. I’m going to settle on the side that the show doesn’t take itself too seriously, though by episode three the cliquey interplays of elimination rounds start to appear.
In all, this was a polished, bar-raising entry in the world of web originals. They even commissioned a theme song for the series, “Everyone Needs a Genuine Ken,” a breezy pop track from the band My Hero. Let’s break down the rest into win and fail, this is the internet after all.
Here’s what stood out in the Win Column:
Tilt shift popped on my radar from the mind-blowing work on Vimeo by Keith Loutit, and it was this very style that came up in talks when this show was still in development over at hud:sun Media. The creative producing team of Michael Rourke, Max Benator and Lauren A. Stevens wanted to break the mold a little with those exterior filler shots that thread together the formulaic interior segments.
So they pitched Mattel on the tilt shift technique—an effect mastered by the show’s DP, Steve Ezell—who in turn loved the concept fitting right in line with the company’s self-adopted ‘toyetic’ aesthetic for the brand. The illusion of turning busy LA cityscapes into moving diorama minatures? Total win.
Michael Buckley (What the Buck?!?) Cameo
Let’s face it, Michael Buckley was made for TV. And one way or another he will have a starring role, possibly on Bravo, on a major show that isn’t produced out of his Connecticut house. His What The Buck?!? show on YouTube continues to dominate, proving he is one of the hardest working men in web series. While his cameo was sadly just an episode, it kicked things off right in terms of paying homage to the web sandbox this show now plays in.
And, in the Not-so-win Column:
I’m still scratching my head on this one. Somehow, from a nationwide search for America’s best boyfriend prospects has turned up an awkward lot of pretty-faced characters. The first episode opens with a talent show that painfully illustrates that this is an entire group with no discernible talents.
The standouts, if any, would be former NFL player Kurtis Taylor (‘Dreamer Ken’) who seems the most naturally well rounded, and David Homyk (‘Crooner Ken’) who is probably the favorite. A few of the others must have just missed the Jersey Shore cut and settled.
New episodes come out weekly on Hulu, and if a reality show fix is in order, this will certainly suffice. Whether it can break through as a hit on the network and knock off The LXD for top billing in the web originals, remains to be seen.