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The Best Independent TV Series at SXSW 2018 — Memo to Distributors

The inaugural lineup of Independent Episodics saw a number of series with high potential in Hollywood and beyond.

Polar SXSW 2018

“Polar”

Sine Brooker

SXSW offered a streamlined slate of 12 Independent Episodics, making it easy for festival goers to appreciate the entire section in just two screenings. From love stories to horror shows, there was something for everyone, and each project is worth looking into if given the chance. Below, IndieWire has highlighted the best series — be it web series, pilots, or foreign entries — that still need distribution. As many eyeballs as possible deserve to see these creations, and each entry is ready to draw an audience for whatever platform is smart enough to snatch them up.

Read More:The Indie TV Dream: Here Are the Ambitions and Realities Facing Sundance’s First Full TV Section

So if any of these sound as good as some of the shows you’re currently watching (if not better), then make it known: Take to Twitter. Poke your favorite network or streaming service. Tell them to pay attention — they’ll thank you later. As as for the distributors reading this: Take heed. These shows are ready for a bigger audience.

“Beast”

The grand jury winner of the Independent Episodics section, “Beast” is a moving, mysterious, and beautifully crafted pilot that immediately draws to mind prominent storytellers (like Steven Spielberg) and stories (like “Stranger Things”). Though the first episode primarily focuses on a teenage boy’s search for his father off the coast of Smith Island, the season looks to explore a string of disappearances in the tiny seaside town. With a keen eye and a good ear, the 17-minute tease checks off every imaginable box for what you want out of an opening episode — strong visuals, dialogue, set-ups, characters, and even a plan for the future. Imagined as an anthology series, creator Ben Strang said each season would focus on a new monster. That’s the kind of show any array of distributors should want to back.

“Polar”

This wild Danish story is another mysterious horror story with kids at the center, but it’s far closer to Tomas Alfredson than Steven Spielberg. Set in Nuuk and told with English subtitles, “Polar” follows a group of teenage friends who hear a horrible, mesmerizing sound from deep in the ocean and commit suicide because of it. But after being legally dead for hours, one boy named Ivik comes back to life. What’s making the sound? Why is it only affecting teens? How can it be stopped, and why did this one kid survive while no one else did? “Polar” is a haunting, full-length pilot (34 minutes, including a prologue) told methodically and featuring strong performances from its young cast. Fans of Netflix’s indie-esque foreign shows (like “Dark”) and most of SundanceTV’s eclectic and rewarding lineup should love this one.

“First World Problems”

First World Problems SXSW 2018 Stephen Park

Stephen Park in “First World Problems”

Chris Saul

Of all the Indie Episodic entries, director X. Dean Lim’s father-son story feels like it has the most to say and, aptly, is most excited to say it. Harold (Stephen Park) is a well-off father and husband who’s come to the unfortunate realization that his family has become too apathetic in their comfy lives. But rather than bitch and moan or start up an affair, Harold pushes back. The first chapter, titled “Two-Hundred Dollars,” shows the dad out to dinner with his son. There, he puts forth a challenge: Providing him $200 in cash, Harold leaves his son in Los Angeles while he flies back home to the East Coast. He can use the money to buy a plane or bus ticket to get home himself, or use the money to have an authentic experience before he heads off to college in a few months. Immediately intriguing, what makes “First World Problems” work beyond its hypothesis is an authenticity of character; both Harold and his son feel genuine (thanks to the performances and dialogue), while Lim’s direction keeps things zipping along. It’s a fun, challenging black comedy that’s got a mystery built in underneath it all. Seeing how this Asian-American family challenges societal norms is exciting, but there’s a beating heart here, too.

“She’s the Ticket”

The only docuseries of the section, “She’s the Ticket” tracks five women who were inspired to run for public office following the 2016 election. Tracking candidates from local city council races to Congressional campaigns, Nadia Hallgren’s simple concept is executed with clarity, enthusiasm, and positivity. In the first episode alone, each candidate is given a quick sense of self and teased just enough to make you want to see how this plays out, beyond the (fantastic) overall reason they’re all running. Three of the five races get a proper ending in the first season, but there’s enough human interest (and savvy editing) to make this more than a worthwhile watch.

“Night Owl”

Imagine a version of “Superstore” where everyone is working the night shift and one insomnia-plagued customer is the star and boom — you’ve got an idea of what the quirky, off-kilter, but very charming “Night Owl” has to offer. Starring and co-directed by Rebekah Miskin, the pilot sees her character begrudgingly drag herself out of the house and drive to her 24-hour supermarket where she bumps into a shy but jovial security guard, a talkative, sympathetic cashier, and a few random fellow shoppers who turn heads for different reasons. The structuring feels a little erratic, but by the end, you’ve already grown accustomed to a style meant to evoke that groggy, otherworldly, 3 a.m. feeling where every normal occurrence can take on a loopy significance. It’s the kind of journey you want to take through your television, rather than real-life (who wants to be an insomniac?), and “Night Owl” feels like a knowing vision of a trippy new world.

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