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."
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.
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
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;
and Zoë," for the best web show about women who won’t grow up;
WillyB," for a sweet journey to the heart of Bushwick;
from Brooklyn," for embracing the nonsense so central to the borough’s
7th," for smart shorts on the fluidity of gender, and also for Amy
Sedaris and Gaby Hoffman, always;
Transition," because Margaret Cho is hilarious, and for being so very
"Kelsey," for Nichole Yannetty,
a Maya Rudolph in-the-making;
"Little Horribles," for sensitive,
"The Mis-adventures Awkward Black Girl,"
for a solid second season and for catapulting Issa Rae to greener pastures,
"Normal Gays," for being abnormal,
for doing what web video does best: taking a simple concept and blowing it way
"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.