Over the past decade, Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal (known collectively as Rhett & Link) have established themselves as elder statesmen of YouTube, an inseparable content-creating duo, and as the owners of one of YouTube’s most eccentric, varied, and humorous video libraries. On October 19th, they launched what is arguably their biggest project to date, premiering the eight-episode scripted comedy Buddy System on YouTube Red.
In Buddy System, Rhett & Link play fictionalized versions of themselves who must hunt down a “co-ex-girlfriend” who is jeopardizing their YouTube channel. While the show will feature bigger production values than their typical work, it will still be led by the same sort of goofy levity for which they are known. Here’s a clip from Buddy System‘s third episode, in which Rhett & Link get into an “I dent, you dent” battle with another man.
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Buddy System represents a big step forward for its creators, so we decided to chat with them to gauge their feelings. Here, in their own words, are Rhett & Link on their new show:
Tubefilter: How did Buddy System come to be?
Rhett McLaughlin: We always wanted to do a scripted musical comedy. We’ve always thought the best place for us to do this would be online, on YouTube, but there hadn’t been an opportunity for that until YouTube started funding that type of content. The timing worked well, and it all came together.
TF: What sort of adjustments have you had to make in order to create a project that is completely scripted?
Link Neal: We definitely developed our audience through our music videos. Everything about a music video is planned out; you get a bunch of shots and you create it in the edit bay. Over the years, we tried to create more scripted moments, especially in recent music videos. We were priming our audience to get them to want more of that from us.
It was a huge transition to go from shooting a sketch to shooting the entire season of Buddy System over 29 days. It was a big leap for us. We kind of designed it to be another step toward what we want to do. It’s still a web series and not full-blown sitcom length, but it was a major leap from our typical productions on a music video.
TF: When you say this is “another step toward what we want to do,” what do you mean?
RM: In terms of us as comedians, we want to continue to do scripted stuff for a long time, and this is just our first foray into it. For us it was our first step, but having completed our first season we’re really proud of it. There were questions about how our comedy would translate to a longer form. [YouTube Red] is still very new…it’s an open world where we can figure out what’s best. There are a lot more stories to tell in Buddy System beyond this first season.
TF: How do you think your fans will react to the show?
LN: We’re very excited for the Mythical Beasts to watch this. We’re very confident they’re gonna love it. For a long-time fan, it represents a natural expansion of what they’ve come to know and expect from us. It has all the elements of things we’ve done in the past. Every episode has a music video. If you isolate that, the music video performances stand on their own. We’ll actually release them on our YouTube channel for everyone else to see every Sunday. Our co-ex-girlfriend [in the show] is an infomercial queen, so we made some commercials similar to the local commercials we’ve made for many years. Buddy System is very similar to sketches our fans have enjoyed for years, but there’s more weight to it, there’s a story. I think our audience is going to be pleasantly surprised with a bigger story, but all the elements they’ve come to know are still there. I’m not nervous about their reaction, I’m excited for that.
TF: Do you think fans who haven’t yet subscribed to YouTube Red will pay $9.99 to watch Buddy System?
RM: Since YouTube Red announced its existence, we’ve been looking into people’s reactions to it. The YouTube audience is very resistant to something that seems like a big change. Any time there’s a change on the Internet…there are a lot of misconceptions about what’s actually happening. We are committed to continuing to educate our audience. We’ve made several videos about YouTube Red letting people know we’re still going to have regular free YouTube that’s ad-supported.
It’s actually been interesting over the past weeks, as we’ve talked about Buddy System, to see the softening, at least within people who watch our viewers. Once they see the content and say, “I might have to break down and pay for this.” We think we’ve made a product that’s worth paying for.
TF: How did your experience working with IFC on the show Commercial Kings affect the way you thought about Buddy System?
LN: I think the way it’s informed our strategy since then is that we’ve focused on maximizing the number of people who can see our work. We had a great experience with the IFC show and we would do it again with the right project, but it was frustrating to message our audience knowing a good chunk of them were not able to get IFC. We’re excited that Buddy System is accessible to a large majority of our audience.
Buddy System is now available on YouTube Red. An accompanying album to the show can be purchased from platforms like iTunes and Google Music.