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by Aymar Jean Christian
December 19, 2013 12:32 PM
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Critic's Picks: 2013's Best Comedy Web Series, and 18 More You Need to Watch Now

A still from "High Maintenance."

What were the best web series in 2013? The major guilds have already weighed in. The Writers Guild is honoring "Husbands" and "Sylvia Plath: Girl Detective." The powerful Producers Guild recognized some of the most popular series this year in "The Lizzie Bennett Diaries," "Burning Love," "Video Game High School" and "Epic Rap Battles of History." The International Academy of Web Television added "Sugarboy," "Emma Approved," "Thurston," "Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome" and "Destroy the Alpha Gammas" to their nominees. Soap network WIGS continues to rake it in across all these awards, with nominations for their series "Blue," "Susanna" and "Lauren."

READ MORE: Critic's Picks: 2013's Six Drama Web Series You Must See, Including the Year's Best

I’m drawn to the scrappy, strange and multicultural, so I was happy to see nominees for the Satellite Awards, started almost 20 years ago by former Hollywood Foreign Press Association (Golden Globes) president Mirjana Van Blaricom. The International Press Academy picked a number of indie standouts (Disclaimer: I'm a member.), including "Ask A Slave," "High Maintenance," "Little Horribles" and "EastSiders."

With that, here’s my account of the best of this year, the first of two lists that starts with comedies. These are shows from artists who deserve more resources to create bigger programs. Indie TV shows are the new pilots. Check them out if you missed them.

The Year's Best Comedy Web Series You Missed: "High Maintenance": Life Is Hard, This Joint Helps

If you haven’t seen "High Maintenance," stop reading, head over to their site and kiss the rest of your day goodbye.  Here's an episode to start you off:

"High Maintenance" is one of the few indie TV shows I hunger for. The show follows a weed dealer, played by actor and co-creator Ben Sinclair, as he sells product to stressed-out New Yorkers. It’s a blissfully simple concept and allows the producers to cast and write for a specific and unique set of actors for each episode. Each episode has a different style and comedic approach. They’re all great -- three of its 11 episodes are Vimeo Staff Picks.

In their latest, “Qasim,” released a couple weeks ago, the show follows a guy who’s life is highly structured and regimented, the un-stoner. In “Jonathan,” Hannibal Buress plays himself trying to survive during and after his comedy tour. Other episodes inventively depict mundane struggles, like finding a mouse in your kitchen or hosting a Passover Seder, to more serious matters like stealing and cancer.

"High Maintenance" beats out nearly every other series in terms of creativity and quality – acting, set design, cinematography, editing – and yet each episode costs less than $1,000, as the producers revealed on my site. This is because co-creators Katja Blichfeld and Russel Gregory work with actors for a living, so they get great talent. And since it’s an anthology show, filming stays light and lean.  

Blichfeld won an Emmy this year for casting "30 Rock" and discovered a number of the show’s stars from that job.

“A lot of the people who I loved either I never got to cast, or I would cast them, and it was like a two-line part that would be funny and have impact but I would always know that actor was capable of way more than anyone was seeing,” she said in an interview earlier this year.

Max Jenkins and Heléne Yorke both had "30 Rock" cameos and star in “Olivia,” one of the series’ strongest and most popular episodes. Some of these stars are also web series creators themselves. Jenkins has his own winning comedy, "Gay’s Anatomy," and Michael Cyril Creighton, who wrote and starred in the episode “Helen” and camoed as a shopkeeper selling Liz Lemon Halliburton jeans, is probably best known for his series, "Jack in a Box."

What do the producers say is the key to show’s success? Simple, character-driven storytelling.

“We just want to get inside the apartment and meet these characters,” Russell Gregory said.

“Less is way more, and leaving people wanting more is way better than just hanging and waiting for the laugh,” Ben Sinclair said. “Just get in and get out, and if they want more that’s a good thing.”

The team is reportedly working to bring "High Maintenance" to television, which has already started a debate about whether web series can retain simplicity and sincerity on bigger platforms. We’ll have to wait to see how it shakes out, but whatever the outcome, the creators can rest assured they’ve already made a great TV show.

But you should also check out:

"The 3 Bits," for bucking the gay mainstream, playing with genre and not being too series about it;

"Ask A Slave," for being real and, unlike 2013’s most acclaimed slave narrative, real funny about American history;

"Chloe and Zoë," for the best web show about women who won’t grow up;

"Got 2B Real," for capturing the essence of shade;

"East WillyB," for a sweet journey to the heart of Bushwick;

"F to 7th"

"Escape from Brooklyn," for embracing the nonsense so central to the borough’s appeal;

"F to 7th," for smart shorts on the fluidity of gender, and also for Amy Sedaris and Gaby Hoffman, always;

"Hollywood Acting Studio," for using the genius of Drew Droege for good: poking at the studios’ juvenile love of comic book characters;

"In Transition," because Margaret Cho is hilarious, and for being so very wrong;

"Kelsey," for Nichole Yannetty, a Maya Rudolph in-the-making;

"Little Horribles," for sensitive, unabashed awkwardness;

"The Mis-adventures Awkward Black Girl," for a solid second season and for catapulting Issa Rae to greener pastures, hopefully;

"Awkward Black Girl"

"Normal Gays," for being abnormal, yet delightful;

"Pursuit of Sexiness," for the wit and charm of Sasheer Zamata and Nicole Byer, examples #5,955,433 and 5,955,434 of black women being real funny;

"Romantic Encounters," "Roomieloverfriends" and "The Slutty Years" for showing the rom-com renaissance isn’t limited to network sitcoms;

"Sugarboy," for doing what web video does best: taking a simple concept and blowing it way out-of-proportion;

"Two Jasperjohns," for being the most daring and incisive art/bear series to ever deconstruct the ideal of personal wealth and achievement, and for musical numbers.

6 Comments

  • suzanne | April 9, 2014 9:22 PMReply

    It is real BS to say an episode cost less than $1000....true they may have outlaid less than $1000 cash but in valuing these series the time and effort , deferred fees, borrows etc need to be factored in to give a true picture of the actual cost. It devalues the efforts of all those people who actually give their time willingly. The fact the creators state "We don’t pay anyone" means that the series is not yet a viable option. Its okay for the first one or two episodes but beyond that it becomes exploitation.

  • Jane | March 28, 2014 12:46 PMReply

    What about award winning comedy, "Dating In The Middle Ages" with Devin Mills? She's hysterical and I LMFAO watching season one and two! Where do you get your information from?

  • dumm | March 17, 2014 10:58 PMReply

    these suck kazz

  • johnny | January 11, 2014 12:09 AMReply

    Apparently, you haven't seen Agent 88.

  • David Catalano | January 1, 2014 8:35 PMReply

    I was very disappointed to not see "THE SMALLS FAMILY" on your list. This series uses the classic lyrics of the late/great hip-hop icon Notorious B.I.G in a traditional sit-com format. Web series should break new ground and be an innovative alternative to network TV...and no web series in 2013 embodies that better than " THE SMALLS FAMILY".

  • David Morrow | December 21, 2013 4:13 AMReply

    We must have been inadvertently left off the list: THE SPIRIT - thespiritshow.tv