In the age of peak TV, it can be overwhelming to even contemplate indulging in any more media content. On the other hand, with episodes clocking in at an average of eight minutes, a web series is a far less ominous commitment than anything else on your binge watching list. In a post “High Maintenance” and “Insecure” world, more and more creators are using the web to deliver inventive entertainment, and many filmmakers are using the medium to push beyond conventional narrative structures.
In the Gotham Award-nominated web series “The F Word,” filmmaker Nicole Opper lovingly documented her parenthood journey with her wife Kristan, transforming the complicated and often painful foster-to-adopt process into a creative and playful docu-series. A sensitive story sprinkled with plenty of joy, the couple’s humor and intimacy makes for gripping viewing. The series came out in 2017, so it wasn’t eligible for this list, but it is one of the best examples of a filmmaker using the short form medium to deliver a narrative that otherwise might never get made.
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Similarly, in “Dinette,” filmmaker Shaina Feinberg has crafted a cozy comedy littered with women and gender non-conforming characters that feel as real as any neighborhood diner regulars. The series premiered in the Tribeca Film Festival’s New Online Work (N.O.W.) section, and later caught the eye of New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum, who called it “a sleepy gem” in her review of “Please Like Me.” (“Dinette” would make this list if it weren’t for the fact that this writer plays a supporting role.)
As the web series has grown from a cute little side project to a potential gateway to TV deals and Emmy nominations, the quality of the work has improved greatly.
Here are the best web series to come out in 2018.
Created and written by Moni Oyedepo, this engaging romantic comedy heightens its classic premise with slick production values and an undeniable charm. Brea (Oyedepo) and Wood (Chinedu Unaka) have been best homies since college, a relationship they both insist is — as the title asserts — entirely platonic. Smart jokes, an easy chemistry between the actors, and economical writing that doesn’t get bogged down in too many storylines makes “Platonic” rise above the rest. The quality is enough to sell it, but as Oyedepo recently told IndieWire, “Platonic” also “partnered with 20-plus black owned businesses, creatives and artists in order to elevate and highlight miscellaneous black people doing their thing in the community.”
7. “The T”
Shot in Chicago and written by its two stars, this intersectional series follows a young trans woman and a queer black man, former lovers who have transitioned into a complicated but intimate friendship. Show creators Bea Cordelia and Daniel Kyri inhabit their characters with a raw vulnerability, creating an emotionally resonant and achingly real portrait of two young queer lives. A bold and unexpected choice in the series’ finale totally flips the narrative, and proves that “The T” is not afraid to tackle difficult topics.
6. “Please Understand Me”
Executive produced by Sarah Silverman through digital content studio JASH, this oddball premise puts in-character comedians through sessions with real-life therapists. Created by Steve Feinartz and Ahamed Weinberg and premiering on Facebook Watch, the series attracted serious comedy talents like Mo Collins, Fred Melamed, and “I Feel Pretty” star Rory Scovel (plus a cameo from his wife, Jordan Scovel). An abusive relationship between a broom master and his apprentice and various mismatched couples who seem to hate each other makes for insanely entertaining viewing.
5. “A Gay Victorian Affair”
Boasting high production values and a delightfully cheeky premise, this Canadian comedy bills itself as “a fun, subversive web series about what it takes to survive as a queer person in Victorian England.” But that’s not all “A Gay Victorian Affair” delivers: Clever writing, sharp performances, and an impressive array of period costumes and set design makes this period comedy the perfect package. Creator Robert Watson summed it up best when he called his series, “A homosexual harlequin romance brought to life, ‘Downton Abbey’ meets ‘Queer as Folk.'”
4. “Braddock, PA”
For their poignant documentary about pollution in a Pennsylvania steel town, filmmaker Rosie Haber used an infrared lens to cast a blazing pink glow over the post-industrial landscape. It’s a beautiful and effective metaphor for the toxic air that infiltrates the town; as the saturated color bleeds into everything, it makes the invisible visible. The four-part series, titled simply “Braddock, PA,” was produced by First Look Media’s Topic, which is responsible for many high-quality digital series. Its roster features the comedy “AKA Wyatt Cenac,” and Gotham-nominated docu-series “She’s the Ticket,” which followed women candidates through their political campaigns, including 2018 Georgia gubernatorial hopeful Stacey Abrams.
3. “Humane Society”
As recurring character Chad from the original seasons of “High Maintenance,” and the nit-picky co-op volunteer in a memorable “Broad City” episode, Chris Roberti’s face will be a familiar one to anyone who has been paying attention to web series over the last five years. This year, Roberti launched his own personal project, the avant-garde “Humane Society,” which uses his unique brand of quasi-absurd and thought-provoking comedy to bring optimism and togetherness to these distracting times. From pensive monologues from his Brooklyn rooftop, to delightfully odd sketches of domestic life featuring his wife, Rebecca Ketchum, Roberti invites the audience into his worldview, and it’s a wonderful place to be.
Two characters, two directors, one long-distance relationship. That’s the essence of this Gotham-nominated series from Alex Dobrenko, “Distance.” Taking brilliant advantage of the medium in a way that hasn’t been done before, Dobrenko uses parallel episodes from each character’s perspective to show both sides of one long-distance relationship. The episodes can be watched in any order, making each viewer’s relationship to the material unique. “Knowing it would live online meant we could create whatever watching experience we wanted,” Dobrenko told Paste. “So we said, ‘Let’s do it, let’s lean into this whole two perspective thing.’” The result, like the 2018 movies “Searching” and “Cam,” is one of the first narrative series to truly understand the internet.
1. “Cleaner Daze”
Playing like “Short Term 12” meets “Girl, Interrupted,” this tragicomic web series is set inside the walls of a drug rehab program for young adults. Complete with an opening credits sequence worthy of the CW, “Cleaner Daze” follows newbie drug counselor Jasmine (Abigail Reno) as she struggles to wrangle a misfit crew of teenage drug addicts while secretly battling her own addiction. Sixteen years sober, creator Tess Sweet is open about her own history with addiction, and she cast many non-actor former addicts in an effort to humanize and de-stigmatize their stories. Under Sweet’s skillful direction, the ensemble cast coheres into a highly-engaging and effective dramatic series, one that could — and should — transfer to television completely unchanged.