How does a superhero get a break these days? A little internet exposure never hurt anyone, certainly not Grace Helbig and Hannah Hart, the YouTube sensations at the helm of “Electra Woman and Dyna Girl,” a riff on Syd and Marty Krofft’s eponymous 1976 television show. The two stars, who have a combined 5.4 million subscribers, have teamed up to produce an eight-part web series released across all streaming platforms for purchase on June 7th. And it’s a whole lot different from the sort of superhero odysseys you can find on the big screen these days.
It’s a simple story: Two small-town heroines have been fighting crime in their Podunk town ever since one stood up for the other on the playground. But they have bigger dreams. Tired of watching lesser-skilled superheroes sign endorsement deals, Electra Woman (Helbig) films the duo kicking butt in a corner store stick-up, which quickly goes viral and gets them noticed by big time Hollywood agency CAA, excuse me—CMM—or, Creative Masked Management.
If it sounds like an allegory for Helbig and Hart’s own trajectory from unknown comedians filming in Brooklyn kitchens to internationally beloved YouTube stars, that’s clearly intentional. Writers Hannibal Deiz, Chris Marrs Piliero and Don Piliero are smart to mine the obvious parallels for laughs. Some of the cleverest moments come in the form of self-aware asides about the Internet (“terrible and wonderful”), iPhone framing techniques (“don’t film vertically”), and the series’ plot: “I promise that we will not go on two diverging character journeys.”
But they do, naturally. When the pair arrive in Los Angeles, they are wooed in classic Hollywood form by smarmy agent Dan Dixon (Andy Buckley from “The Office,” giving pure Ari Gold gold). Electra Woman is over the moon, while Dyna Girl is skeptical. You can guess what happens from there.
As Electra Woman rises to fame, Dyna Girl is relegated to sidekick status, and the friends lose step with each other and with their crime-fighting roots. But when a new super villainess arrives on the scene to wreak havoc on the city and abduct Dyna Girl, Electra Woman must snap out of her fame-induced daze and rush to her friend’s side.
It’s not as addictive as “Jessica Jones,” and not as funny as “Spy,” but it’s a refreshing addition to the rapidly growing female-led superhero genre. You’d be hard-pressed to find more than a minute or two that doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, and Helbig and Hart have excellent onscreen buddy chemistry (the two are real-life friends). They handle dramatic moments as deftly as comedic ones, and look good doing it.
What’s more impressive is their shared executive producer credit. One advantage to putting your private moments on the Internet is having full creative control. Helbig and Hart are leveraging that power to create female-driven content that might otherwise get a pass from studio execs. Hart is an out lesbian with a funky, asymmetrical haircut. Even if said haircut were written into the script, odds are a major studio would have cast a conventionally feminine actress and thrown a wig on her. And that’s important. Hart’s mere presence on any screen showcases alternative gender presentations, however subtle they may be.
So the plot takes about as many turns as a Midwest freeway. And some of the jokes seem a bit crass for the audience of tweens who have been counting down the days to the series’ release. (“I wish your Dad just put you in a tissue.”) And everyone seems confused about whether Hart’s character is named Jude or Judy. Granted, if you don’t have skin in that game it may not bother you.
The jokes lambasting Hollywood are particularly astute, like when Electra Woman mispronounces Louboutins and Hotel Marmont in the same frenzied sentence, or when Dixon offers them a snack of “tiger jerky.” The great obstacle Electra Woman faces as she rushes to save the kidnapped Dyna Girl? She can’t get an Uber. She gets in the wrong one, then she gets into a car that isn’t actually an Uber. (“How many black Priuses are there in this city?”)
The series boasts slick production values and keeps good pace. The 12-minute episodes fly by, and the theme song will stay in your head for days. As Helbig and Hart collaborate on more projects, one can only assume they’ll get more confident and ambitious. In 2014, the two co-produced the feature “Camp Takota” with fellow YouTuber Mamrie Hart, their first foray into scripted feature territory. Later this year, they star alongside other YouTubers in “Dirty 30.” They are certainly worth keeping tabs on as more YouTube stars attempt to break out into scripted content.
Helbig in particular, with her doe eyes and striking resemblance to funny bombshells like Jane Krakowski or Jessalyn Gilsig (“Glee”), seems a likely candidate for a crossover career — if that’s even what she wants. Speaking to The Washington Post in 2014, Helbig said, “I always feel like I wasted my time [auditioning] and I could have been creating my own thing.” So far, she has stuck to that promise.