Comedy on the Web
By Devin D. O’Leary
The news last week that NBC would be picking up the episodic Web-only series “Quarterlife” as a midseason replacement show for early 2008 told us one of two things: Either the month-old Writers’ Guild strike is having a much more devastating effect on the industry as a whole, or we’ve been looking in the wrong place for our entertainment. After all, “Quarterlife” is produced by TV vets Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick (“thirtysomething,” “My So-Called Life”). The show, about six twentysomething artists coming of age in the digital generation, airs on MySpace, where the first episode has been viewed more than 190,000 times. Maybe it’s time to start ignoring television altogether and dig into this digital realm of Internet-only webisodes.
This is the granddaddy of all Internet-only content sites. The project was started five years ago by Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab (who are variously responsible for Monster House, “The Sarah Silverman Program” and the Scud the Disposable Assassin comic). Viewers send in short, homemade “episodes” every month. The ones that get the most votes continue as a series. Viewers are in total control, kicking a series off the site the second they become bored by it. Stars like Jack Black and Drew Carey occasionally drop by to star in stuff. The site’s longest-running show was “Classroom,” a parody of after-school specials that ran for 13 episodes. Even failures have become famous. Matt Sloan and Aaron Yonda’s sci-fi joke “Chad Vader” only aired twice but went on to become a YouTube legend. Monthly “prime time” selections are limited, but laugh content is high amid the superhero parodies, off-kilter comedies and fake animations.
Started by pals Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights) as a rival to YouTube, Funny or Die also allows viewers to vote off unamusing content. So far, the site’s biggest sensation has been “The Landlord” featuring McKay’s 2-year-old daughter as a foul-mouthed landlord who berates Ferrell over his missing rent. If somehow you’ve missed seeing this (hard to believe since it’s been downloaded more than 40 million times), you need to watch it now. Thanks to Ferrell and McKay, dozens of big-time stars (Katherine Heigl, Willem DaFoe, Danny DeVito, Jenna Elfman, Bill Murray, Eva Longoria, Andy Richter) have made cameos.
This ad-supported online broadband service was created by Turner Broadcasting, which explains the connection to Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming block. It features “original funny video clips made exclusively for us by professional funny people.” Comedians Maria Bamford and Bob Odenkirk, animator Brad Neely and actors/comedians Tim Heidecker and Eric Warheim (“Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!”) are among the regular contributors. The sense of humor veers toward the weird, but there are plenty of gems to be found.
OK, so there’s only one show here, but it’s a winner. The short-form mockumentary series “Clark and Michael” stars young pals Clark Duke and Michael Cera (SuperBad) as themselves (only “more idiotic and more deluded”) doing a spectacularly bad job of writing and selling a new TV series. At one point, they try to get Kenny Loggins to perform the theme song for the show, but they can’t figure out how to get in touch with him. CBS is bankrolling the episodes, meaning we might see them on broadcast TV at some point as well.
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