In a year when the growing role of Netflix in Hollywood raised age-old fears about the death of cinema, the question of what is television versus a movie versus a web series grew ever murkier. As younger audiences become increasingly blasé about the difference, preferring streaming sites to the movie theater experience, production companies are scrambling to engage them with quality online content. At the same time, the internet remains the easiest way for emerging filmmakers to get their work seen without having to rely on meddling middlemen or jaded gatekeepers.
IFC Comedy Crib, Stage 13, Super Deluxe, and Vimeo all ramped up their original content production this year, and underrepresented filmmakers are taking risks and reaping the rewards. As a result, there are more high-quality web series to choose from than ever before.
Here are the top ten web series of 2017:
In the vastly overpopulated world of online video, “Neurotica” is the perfect title for an airtight concept: A comedy about a dominatrix with OCD. Creator Jenny Jaffe stars as small town S&M enthusiast, whose mom and pop shop is being threatened by a mega dungeon. Jaffe is like a bubbly Julie Klausner, bopping around in her black leather boots while making her clients wash their hands. Slapping some much-needed comedy into the growing genre of BDSM-related entertainment, “Neurotica” ensures “Fifty Shades of Grey” will not have the final word in the kink conversation.
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9. “Bagdad, Florida”
If there were more than two episodes of this dreamy new queer series, it would be higher up on this list. But the fact that the first 14 minutes are good enough to merit its inclusion are a very good sign. Arriving with the confidence of a fully formed auteur, “Jay and Pluto” creator Matthew Fifer set out to create a star vehicle worthy of Freckle, whose scenes in “The Gay and Wondrous Life of Caleb Gallo” birthed many memes popular with a discerning set of young queers. The newly-crowned genderqueer doyenne of internet comedy, Freckle recently declared social media “ur Vaudeville” on Instagram, and we’re inclined to agree.
8. “City Girl”
If ever there proof never to throw anything out, it’s this charmingly bizarre micro-series written by a 12-year-old girl. Comedian Sarah Ramos dug back into the archives to find a script she wrote as an adolescent, which has now been given a full production with Ramos playing her young self. The result is a predictably hilarious ride that unearths a few surprises along the way. The surreal comedy is tonally similar to Dean Fleischer-Camp’s “David,” also from Super Deluxe, but with a bubble gum-flavored sheen that won’t depress you quite as much.
Say what you want about legacy in Hollywood, but you’d be crazy to not be a little bit curious about what Larry David’s daughter has to say. Her name is Cazzie David, and she’s the creator, with Elisa Kalani, of “Eighty-Sixed.” The six-episode series stars David as Remi, a dry and self-deprecating girl reeling from a break-up the best way she knows how — which is pretty much not at all. Whether it’s spying via drone or failed attempts to make new friends, Remi uses Millennial tactics to solve age-old problems. It’s quick-paced, tightly scripted, and appropriately neurotic. It’s hard not to see Remi as Larry David if he were a teenage girl. Pretty, pretty, pretty good.
6. “Sport Court”
“High Maintenance” charmer Chris Roberti leads the silliest comedy on this list, which takes place in an ad hoc courtroom set up to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Roberti plays Judge David Linda, chillest judge ever, esquire. He is joined by a rotating cast of characters who cycle through his basement chambers, and bolstered by a bailiff with a heart of gold, played by the delightful Monique Moses. Written by Joe Schiappa and directed by Shaina Feinberg (“Shiva”), “Sport Court” is guilty as charged of being hilarious.
Though many worry that streaming video will bring the death of movies, the outpouring of money into developing online content has also been a boon to indie filmmakers willing to embrace the form. In the case of “Junior,” Zoe Cassavetes made the most of the resources available to her and made a darkly seductive coming-of-age story starring a teen girl protagonist without the usual clichés. Starring Lucia Ribisi as Logan and Amy Seimetz as her mother, “Junior” ups the ante on the cinematic possibilities of online video.
4. “Let Me Die a Nun”
Spirituality and sexuality may sound like strange bedfellows, but queer filmmakers have always explored the duality in surprising and enlightening ways. Arriving as a quirky companion piece to the graceful meditations of this year’s “Princess Cyd,” “Let Me Die a Nun” presents a twsited take ont he lesbian nun genre — which really never gets old. Offbeat comedian Ana Fabrega stars alongside “Transparent” star Hari Nef in the dark comedy with just enough romance to pull at your heartstrings.
3. “Two Sentence Horror Stories”
Based on a viral Reddit thread of the same name, “Two Sentence Horror Stories” is an ambitious anthology series of that accomplishes a lot in a short amount of time. Populated by characters as various as its chilling premises, each episode is full of a tightly-wound terrors and visuals that go way beyond what we’ve come to expect from the medium. “Horror gives us the permission to explore our most primal fears and deepest anxieties in a safe and hopefully, cathartic way,” said series creator Vera Miao, who brings a fresh perspective to the genre with her socially conscious horror.
2. “195 Lewis”
If Issa Rae were a queer woman, “Insecure” might look more like “195 Lewis,” a show so stylish, sexy, and assured that it has steadily built momentum by word of mouth since its festival premiere over a year ago. Set in the heart of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, “195 Lewis” follows a black lesbian couple as they strive to practice radical honesty in their newly polyamorous relationship. Surrounding them are a group of close-knit young black queer friends, peppered with characters as unique and colorful as the greens and purple hues of every gorgeous frame.
There are five episodes of the Vimeo original series “555.” Each one, like stars John Early and Kate Berlant, complementary but brilliant in its own special way. Under the direction of Andrew DeYoung, Early and Berlant exhibit a skill not every comedian can claim: A flair for highly visual cinematic storytelling.
Each episode features Early and Berlant as different showbiz caricatures: aspiring pop stars, a clueless stage mom and her shy son, over-earnest acting students, extras playing aliens, and cutthroat agents. The series acts as a showcase for the duo’s impressive arsenal of lovable eccentrics, as well as their ability to poke fun at the dark side of ambition. The result is a stylish creative debut that plays more like a collection of short surrealist films than a comedic web series — while never losing sight of the absurd.