Web Series Reviews Archive

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Shadow Bound: The Web Series I’m Talking About…Tomorrow

It’s a shamelessly fast post for you tonight. Why? Certainly not because I’m horribly prepared and didn’t have a review ready for tonight. Not at all. Rather it’s because tomorrow evening I’m making my third appearance on the Limited Release Podcast. Hooray for being able to play nicely with others.

For those of you who don’t know, Limited Release is one of the finest review podcasts on the internet. Without sounding like too much of a suck-up, it is an absolute pleasure to be able to guest host again.

Bearing that in mind, and in the spirit of shameless self-promotion, I thought I would give you a taste of one of the web series I will be reviewing tomorrow night – which you won’t get to actually hear about until the episode gets released on iTunes sometime next week.

The series is called Shadow Bound. Not only is it an homage to the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft – absent the pesky racism gets in the way of really enjoying Lovecraft’s work – it’s shot as a silent period piece. Not to preempt my review, but it is one of the finest examples of what the web series is capable of doing. And I shudder to think how much time and effort went into the props and costumes for what amounts to a feature film in five acts.

Here’s the first episode, and I dare any fans of supernatural horror not to keep watching after this initial chapter.

 

And if you make it to episode three, sleep well tonight.

We’re back to the usual routine on Friday; wherein, I’ll either talk about Attack on Titan or offer another angry rant on Star Wars Episode VII: The Ancient Herp-Derp from the Outer Rim.


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First Impressions of Out of Time

One week ago the director of Out of Time, Rodney V. Smith, offered me an insider’s glance at his upcoming web series. An experienced hand at online production, Smith’s past work includes the detective noir web series Dominion. Where Dominion explored a world of supernatural beings coexisting with humanity, Out of Time presents itself a story that marries contemporary corporate intrigue with time travel.

The series is also embarking upon a unique approach to funding its ten episode debut season. Anybody who backs Out of Time’s indiegogo campaign will gain immediate early access to the thirty minute prologue to the first season, The Accidental Time Traveller.

Considering the average runtime of a web series, thirty minutes dedicated to a pilot represents a substantial investment of time and labour. For comparison, the entirety of Felica Day’s Dragon Age web series ran approximately one hour in duration. This ambition is similarly reflected in the series’ plan to deliver individual episodes at a length of fifteen minutes. By the time the first season is done, Mr. Smith is going to have a feature length film on his hands.

Ambitious is similarly the word I would use to describe the scope of The Accidental Time Traveller. To watch this pilot is to see a self-contained short film which revels in asynchronous story telling. Therein, series protagonist Chris Allman (Steve Kasan) finds himself trapped within his own causality loop as he struggles to save the life of his murdered girlfriend Sara (Julia MacPherson). It is the sort of storytelling which makes Steven Moffat’s attempts to play the timey-wimey game on Doctor Who appear similar to a toddler splashing about in a wading pool. The sheer complexity of the time travel within The Accidental Time Traveler is best compared to 2004’s indie darling Primer.

The impressive visual effects within the pilot episode also merit some discussion. One thing of particular note is a scene when an actor walks through a digitally rendered computer readout. This may not sound impressive, but I expect the production of such a deceptively simple illusion required no shortage of work from the effects department. Moreover, it’s the sort of effect which makes me wonder what this series might be capable of producing once it secures greater funding.

Filming on location in Toronto over the spring of this year, the series is expected to release in March of 2014. For those interested in contributing to the production, there is an extensive breakdown of the project’s budget and production schedule on their Indiegogo page.

My thanks to Mr. Smith for offering me a preview of the series. Best of luck to the cast and crew in meeting their fundraising goal.

Find out more about the project at Out of Time’s webpage. Or head over to their indiegogo campaign to make a contribution.


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Post #400 and The Best of 2012

400 posts. Isn’t that something? It seems like only two and a half years ago I was drinking scotch and thinking, “I should start a review website. Nobody in the history of the internet has ever done one of those before.”

Of course, I couldn’t have done it on my own. Along the way I’ve had the pleasure of hosting guest posts from Matt Moore, Rollen Lee, K.W. Ramsey, and Matt Leaver. During that time we must have been doing something right because this year’s numbers doubled to roughly 5500 unique visitors per month. Granted those aren’t Scalzi or Wheaton numbers, but whatever, I’ll get there, and then Middle Earth shall feel my wrath…or there will be cake – either or, really.

So given the auspicious number of this post, and the fact that I’m on vacation starting next week, today seems an ideal time to do my best in genre of 2012.

Best Big Budget Video Game

XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Firaxis Games

Rebooting Julian Gollop’s classic 1994 turn based strategy game, X-Com: UFO Defence was a gutsy move on the part of Firaxis and 2K Games. On the one hand, anybody old enough to remember the source material is no longer part of the gaming industry’s target audience. Moreover, nobody makes turn based strategy games in a market dominated by first/third person shooters and sports titles. Yet Firaxis managed to pull it off. They streamlined classic X-Com’s clunky features, maintained the suspense and often punishing difficulty, and ultimately delivered an experience which pairs action with player driven narrative.

Best Indie Game

FTL, Subset Games

FTL is a rogue-like starship simulator. Similar to XCOM, FTL features persistent consequences and permanent death. Unlike XCOM, a single game of FTL only takes about two hours from start to finish. During that time players will command a starship on a mission to save the Federation from a looming rebellion. FTL puts a premium on resource management and strategy driven starship combat. Though the game’s objective always remains the same, no two playthroughs will ever be the same. Much of this replay factor can be attributed to FTL’s procedurally generated galaxy, variety of ships to command, and a huge pool of random events. Simple, elegant, and challenging in extremis FTL is not a title to be missed.

Best Novel

Rasputin’s Bastards, David Nickle

I’m almost certain the book isn’t an attempt on the part of ChiZine Publications and author David Nickle to subconsciously program an army of sleeper agents. That said, there are times when Rasputin’s Bastards feels like a twenty-first century answer to Catch-22. Both books are complex, revel in asynchronous storytelling, and left this reader eager to reread if only to mine for details, subtexts, and plot threads missed on a first read through. The novel also boasts a moral ambiguity in its characters which defies an easy D&D style alignment. Despite their various plans and machinations, some of which still don’t quite make sense to me, a reader can walk away from the book with a real sense of empathy for all the players involved. The Cold War might have been a lot of things, but before David Nickle’s treatment I don’t know if it has ever been quite so metaphysical.

Best Movie

Dredd

Yeah that’s right, I said Dredd. The Avengers has got enough people kissing its billion dollar ass. Dredd was the movie that nobody, save for dedicated weirdoes like yours truly, ever wanted. Despite utterly under performing at the box office, Dredd remains an accessible action movie after the hard “R” rated fashion of Die Hard. It skillfully brings an uninitiated viewer into the entropy of Mega City One, while remaining true enough to the source material to appease a veteran audience. As ever with Judge Joe Dredd, the writing remains a serious study on urban crime and civil liberties as seen through a set of extraordinary circumstances. Karl Urban as Dredd offers a unique sort of black comedy amid the action. Lena Headey delivers a brilliant performance as a cold calculating drug lord. While one special effect does get used a bit much, viewers can take solace in the fact that Dredd doesn’t spend fifteen minutes fixing an engine.

Best TV

NB: Live action genre TV sucked the devil’s ass in 2012. It should be telling that my only candidates for this category were animated series.

TRON: Uprising

Would that the story of TRON: Uprising was told in TRON: Legacy fans might have got the sequel they deserved. Despite the Disney branding, Uprising frames the back story of Legacy as a narrative of insurgency within the Grid. It’s poignant in ways that The Clone Wars can be when exploring stories involving the clone troopers and not their Jedi generals. At some point, we know Tron, voiced magnificently by Bruce Boxleitner, is going to end up as Rinzler, CLU’s mindless growling stooge. This foreknowledge makes his struggle against General Tessler, voiced with style by Lance Henriksen, and his search for redemption in training Beck (Elijah Wood) as the new Tron all the more bitter sweet. Meanwhile the writers are free to derezz and destroy to their heart’s content as the series’ cast, save for Tron, are external to the world of Legacy.

Best Web Series

Job Hunters

This is another tough call. Husbands remains one of the funniest things on the internet. Though I only recently discovered Clutch, it’s quickly become one of the most powerful things I’ve seen online. But where those shows entered their second season in 2012, Job Hunters debuted this year. I didn’t know what to expect in a series which described itself as a “dystopian roommate comedy”. Truth be told, I was bracing for terrible. Instead, I saw a series which tapped into the frustration of college graduates entering an outsourced and depressed job market. The series takes job hunting quite literally where grads become gladiators who fight for a position with the corporations of the world. Drawing inspiration from Rollerball as much as it does The Hunger Games, Job Hunters is looks great, sounds as good as any mainstream production, and uses both comedy and violence to explore a social phenomenon.

There we have it, my best of 2012 in the 400th post.

My deepest thanks to everybody who continues to read and support this website. Your comments, facebook likes, and retweets are as good as gold to me. Until the day when somebody starts paying me to write for a living, approbation and kudos are my bread and butter.

So feel free to follow me on twitter by clicking the link at the top of this page and/or hitting like on the Page of Reviews’ facebook page.


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Web Series Review: Clutch

On a whole, I think the web series can be a great medium for storytelling. In recent years it has done wonders for comedy, and in the process acted as a new voice for groups marginalized by mainstream media. As well, the web series has helped to demonstrate the viability of genre projects which might otherwise be deemed too risky for conventional television. Yet I’ve always thought there was something missing. Where is the web series that pulls no punches? In a medium without limits, mostly, where is the FX and HBO factor? Tuesday morning I woke up to an email from Jonathan Robbins, writer and director of Clutch; it turns out he and his series have the answer to my question.

Now in its second season, Clutch is a Canadian produced multiple award winning femme fatale crime thriller set in Toronto. The first season focuses on Kylie (Elitsa Bako), a pick pocket drawn into a deeper world of professional thievery and organized crime. After escaping an attempt on the part of her ex-boyfriend to sell her into the sex trade, Kylie meets a prostitute named Bridgette (Lea Lawrynowicz) and a thief named Mike (Jeff Sinasac), who presumes to take Kylie on as an apprentice. From there, the story is one of people forced into crime as a means of survival stealing from those who choose crime as a lifestyle.

Stylistically Clutch is a web series answer to Shawn Ryan and The Shield. Tight shots on characters create an almost intrusive sense of intimacy between the show and the audience. This closeness underpins the series’ graphic violence and frequent nudity, almost making the viewer feel like a voyeur into a world which is both fascinating and terrifying. While there are elements of Robert Rodriguez’s and Frank Miller’s screen adaptation of Sin City in the plot, Clutch’s visual focus is always on the inherent ugliness of crime. Absent are Sin City’s voice overs and stylistic trickery which would otherwise blunt the honesty of events as they unfold.

Which brings me to the series’ second episode. It’s not my style to overtly spoil things for the viewing audience, yet there is one particular scene which deserves some special attention. As a clue, I will say that Pete Travis shot a similar sort of scene with Lena Headey in Dredd; the rest you can either figure out on your own or just watch the series to see what I mean.

This scene casts aside any doubt that Clutch is anything but a hard “R” rated web series intent on cutting to the bone. At the same time, said scene is as alluring (in a narrative sense) as it is alienating. Viewers are either going to be drawn into Clutch in this moment, or they will walk away. Presenting this scene as a means of setting an overall tone, when it might be better used as a coup de gras toward the end of the season, is bold writing. This is before we get to the unflinching conviction to character that the cast, especially Elitsa Bako, demonstrate in this scene. Not to play psychologist, but there are no shortage of moments within Clutch’s first season which I imagine must have been challenging for the cast. Their fantastic execution demonstrates what I can only assume to be a remarkable trust in Mr. Robbins’ directing and overall vision for the series.

Though magnificent in its cinematography and story telling, there is one area which stands out as less polished than the rest of the production, specifically the gun play. In a series which boasts great music and otherwise solid audio balancing, the guns sound wrong. Pistols and machine guns alike sound too artificial and are accompanied by what looked, to my untrained eyes, like too much post-production muzzle flash. Similarly, cuts from shooter to victim feel a little ill timed. However, I recognize it is hard to hide squib packs on naked people. Ultimately, if the handful of shooting sequences demonstrate anything, it’s that Clutch is at its best when its violence is visceral, psychological, and not subject to something as pedestrian as gunfire.

Both bold and daring, Clutch is a new and wholly welcome direction for the web series as a medium. Its characters are all flawed yet most, save for the mob boss, Marcel, remain accessible despite how the Hobbesian brutality of their lives has shaped them into morally questionable entities. Though nudity is a new thing for me in a web series, as is Clutch’s unabashed violence, the absence of either would have been askance given the nature of this story. Certainly the Ocean’s 11 meets The Shield approach will be off-putting for some, but those whose tastes lean toward gritty urban crime will likely not find themselves disappointed.

For your viewing pleasure, here’s the first episode of Clutch. It should go without saying this is NSFW.

 

Clutch stars Elitsa Bako, Lea Lawrynowicz, Matthew Carvery, Buzz Koffman, Jeff Sinasac, and Alexandra Elle. The series is written and directed by Jonathan Robbins.

Head over to clutchtheseries.com for more information on the series, cast, and crew.


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Web Series Review: First Impressions of Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn

I’m not going to lie; I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the Halo franchise. When I was in grad school I would treat my brain to a study reprieve with one of the Halo novels. For the better part of a year my gaming group spent a few hours each Wednesday night playing Halo Reach. While Microsoft’s “everything that is old is new again” approach to reselling Halo and Halo 2 as HD remakes left a foul taste in my mouth, it wasn’t enough to sour me on the world of the Master Chief. And then I watched the first episode of 343 Industries’ pre-Halo 4 promotional web series, Forward Unto Dawn. Rarely has something, which on a conceptual level I know I should enjoy, moved me to disgust so quickly.

Believe it or not, the fundamental problem in Halo’s mythology has nothing to do with a slightly silly narrative of aliens fighting against humans. Thanks to Forward Unto Dawn, the now inescapable problem connects to the less than noble origins of the game’s hero. The United Nations Space Command’s “Spartan II” project was designed to create a Special Forces soldier who would be capable of covert operations against the political dissidents opposed to the UNSC’s dominion over colonized space. Had the Covenant, an alliance of alien races intent on evil for the sake of evil, not invaded UNSC space, the Chief would have earned his stripes crushing rebellions in the name of his hegemonic empire. Rather than skirting around this issue, Forward Unto Dawn celebrates it.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit more moral ambiguity tossed into the Halo universe. Yet Forward Unto Dawn goes about it in the exact wrong way. Set at an elite UNSC military academy, the series follows a cadet squad and their resident malcontent Thomas Lasky (Tom Green – no not that Tom Green). Unlike most other Cadets, who believe the ‘Innies (short hand for Insurrectionist) are blood thirsty murderers intent on ruining civilization, Lasky dares to ask if there isn’t a smarter way to prosecute a war against what he sees as “a bunch of overly taxed farmers.”

I might be inclined to buy into the narrative Forward Unto Dawn is putting out there were it not for the fact that it presumes to have teenagers espousing tactical dogma. Moreover, the dialogue powering Lasky’s third-way philosophy and the other cadets’ devotion to policy sounds like it’s drawn from the big book of war movie clichés. If that wasn’t bad enough, the acting is about as forced and unnatural as can be. There’s no better example of this shameless scenery chewing than in Enisha Brewster as senior cadet April Orenski. I don’t know if we should blame the writer, director, or actor for Orenski’s laughably miserable attempt at channeling a gruff gunnery sergeant.

It’s as if the writers sought to combine the worst elements of Dawson’s Creek and Ender’s Game within the Halo mythos. Forward unto angst filled child soldiers revelling in their collective hubris. Clearly nobody informed Hastati Squad that within the Roman Legion, the Hastati were inexperienced and poorly equipped canon fodder; would that these characters die as quickly as their namesakes, I would be a happy critic.

Despite this, Forward Unto Dawn’s crucial failure remains the shameless subversion of the game’s “the UNSC are the good guys” conceit. Watching the unthinking cadet corps, who are a stone’s throw away from jack boots and Roman salutes, in action has made me finally accept the fact that I’ve spent countless hours in the service of an agency akin to the Galactic Empire of Star Wars, the Alliance of Firefly, or the Terran Federation of Blake’s 7.

Moreover, the episode’s emphasis on a cadre of cadets makes me think that 343i and Microsoft are abandoning the 20 and 30-something demographic that made Halo a pop-culture touchstone in favour of younger gamers. Granted it has only been one episode, but the “next time on Forward Unto Dawn” trailer strongly implies this will be a series for the kiddies. I still hold out some hope on the plot returning to old Lasky as he finds the Chief and Cortana drifting through space. Realistically, I’ll bet old Lasky pulls the Chief out of cryo as an epilogue to the series and a “hey kids, go buy Halo 4 to find out what happens next” gimmick.

As a web series, Forward Unto Dawn is tedious and derivative. I can think of at least half a dozen other web productions more worthy of audience attention. As a promotional piece for Halo 4, Forward Unto Dawn is just downright embarrassing. Any two minute segment from Halo 3’s “Believe in a Hero” or “Museum of Humanity” ad campaign would upstage all twenty minutes of Forward Unto Dawn’s maudlin claptrap. Were it possible, I would teabag this web series like a fallen foe in a Halo death match.


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First Impressions of a Web Series that is Legally Distinct from Anything Owned by Sony or NBC

Travis Richey is known on the internet as the creator of the Sesame Street spoof Smiley Town, the roommate comedy Robot, Ninja and Gay Guy, and the internet parody 2 Hot Guys in the Shower. However, fans of the NBC series Community will probably recognize him by another name, Inspector Spacetime. Back in February Richey launched a kickstarter campaign to fund a web series charting the adventures of the Community created Doctor Who send up. One business day after he came on my podcast to promote the project, then known as Inspector Spacetime: The Web Series, Sony and NBC lawyered up. Rather than bowing to corporate tyranny, Richey gave the Inspector a different coat and officially changed the name of his project to Untitled Web Series About a Space Traveller Who Can Also Travel Through Time.

After months of fan supported work, the Inspector’s first web adventure, Boyish the Extraordinary, has gone live. And if the entire series is as sharply written as the premiere episode then we are all in for a treat.

 

As a series taking some level of inspiration from the ephemera of Community’s screw-ball comedy, it would be easy to expect the same from UWSAASTWCATTT. Yet the tone of this series draws much more from Douglas Adams than it does Dan Harmon. The story is set on “Second New Old Earth 7”, which is described as a planet that came to be recognized as the pinnacle of human culture and civilization by the time we got up to the 42nd copy of Old Earth. Viewers familiar with the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will no doubt revel in the absurdist exposition, while anybody who hasn’t read the book will probably be as temporarily confused as the Inspector’s associate Piper (Carrie Keranen).

Despite having fun with Douglas Adams’ style, Richey and co-writer Eric Loya have not neglected the Inspector’s origins as a Doctor Who parody. Piper’s name is an obvious nod to actress Billie Piper who played Rose Tyler, companion to the ninth and tenth Doctor. There’s a sign in the background of the episode’s first scene that in true Steven Moffat fashion demands, “No Spoilers.” Though Community saw the Inspector square off against the Dalek inspired Blorgons, this episode changes the antagonist to the creatively distinct, yet Cyberman derivative, “Circuit Chaps”. As clever as these ideas are, it is the BOOTH, the Inspector’s means of conveyance, which almost steals the episode. Though only a set piece, the special effects which usher the BOOTH into the frame are some of the best that I have ever seen in a web production. Truly Mr. Richey has mobilized some fantastic post-production talent for this project.

Now we must ask who is Boyish the Extraordinary? (Travis may have left a few hints during the podcast, but the sign said no spoilers, so I won’t say) And will he be so easily hand waved out of the story as the Circuit Chaps? (Probably not since his name is in the title).

UWSAASTWCATTT releases new episodes on Mondays. Kudos to Travis Richey and team for a fantastic start.

The Untitled Web Series About a Space Traveller Who Can also Travel Through Time is written by Travis Richey and Eric Loya. It stars Travis Richey and Carrie Keranen. The first season is directed by Vincent Talenti.


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The Unfinished Web Series Project

A wide shot of LA as seen in It Ends Today

Much like in the world of conventional television, not every web series makes it to the end of its first season. Some projects are so ambitious that they blow through their entire budget in the first few episodes. Others, particularly those that are produced piece meal, call it a day due to the cast and crew moving on to other projects. Some web series seem to quietly vanish into the ether of the internet, leaving stale youtube videos as the only proof of their unrealized potential. For your viewing pleasure, I give you four web series, two original and two fan series, that never quite, or have yet to, come to fruition.

It Ends Today


Written and directed by Aleem Hossain

Date of Release: September 2009

Number of episodes: 1

Status: Unknown, presumed dead.

Out of the four series mentioned in this post, It Ends Today is probably the one that scores the highest for unrealized excellence. In less than five minutes the story manages to frame the characters, a recovering drug addict and her boyfriend, establish a conflict, Zoë’s memory lapse which Eric interprets as her falling off the wagon, and hint at a supernatural power akin to the good parts of Lost. There’s a feeling of genuine history between the two characters, but it’s handled in a way that shows rather than tells. Though there’s some inconsistency in the sound levels, the visual quality of the production is excellent. It’s really quite a shame that It Ends Today was left as an unfinished production. I know that I would pay if it meant I could see a full season of this story.

Update: I managed to get in touch with Aleem Hossain and he informed me of a few interesting details about this series. The pilot episode’s positive critical reception led to serious talks with major financial backers for a complete first season. Unfortunately talks fell through, partly due to their timing with the meltdown of the global economy, and subsequent deals offered too little money to maintain the pilot’s production values. To quote Mr. Hossain, “I think I could have found a distributor if I had the whole series shot – but finding the money to make more?”

The only silver lining is that Aleem has not been idle since It Ends Today hit the internet – head over to his website and check out some of his other work.

Star Trek: Phoenix


Directed by Sam Akina, Gale Benning, and Leo Roberts

Number of episodes: 3

Status: Currently fundraising to make more.

Date of Release: November 2010

Star Trek: Phoenix is a very ambitious project. Set after the destruction of the Romulus, as described in the recent Star Trek reboot, Phoenix attempts to tell a rather unique story within the Trek universe. Where the Federation has always been a model of efficiency, this series shows Star Fleet as a bureaucratic agency subject to the whims of politicians. Phoenix runs into trouble when it attempts to shape that framework to suit a visual effects heavy story more in line with traditional Trek. The cerebral elements of the story end up as little more than narrative info dumps meant to bring an average Trek fan up to speed on the events of this series.

While the acting and dialogue occasionally border on cheese, the costuming, location shots, and special effects are quite impressive. If the production team does manage to make more, I’ll certainly watch them. However, I fear that they will never manage huge crowd sourcing goals telling a Trek story that is so far removed from the established canon.

Dead Patrol


Director/Series Creator: Jason Tisch

Number of episodes: 3

Status: Either dead or shambling through a one episode per year production schedule

Date of release: Feb 2008

If this series teaches would-be producers anything, it’s that there is a difference between real darkness and television darkness. Television darkness is mood lighting paired with the strategic use of shadow. Actual darkness is what happens when a person turns off all the lights, and unfortunately too much of this series is shot in said condition.

The concept, however, is great: a zombie apocalypse story where the military isn’t out to rape and pillage at the expense of the survivors. It’s the execution that really does this series in. Well, that and the painful continuity mistakes. I suppose I was also a bit put off by the shameless attempt to convince the audience that the surviving soldiers are driving a Lamborghini, rather than a Ford Focus that has been (badly) CG’d to look like a Lamborghini.

Halo: Hell Jumper

Written and Directed by Dan Wang

Number of episodes: 2

Status: Recently failed to meet a $65,000 fundraising goal for future episodes. Future unknown.

Date of release: January 2012

The props are amazing. The special effects are impressive. The costumes appear to be made by professionals. The story is maudlin, bordering on silly.

Hell Jumper literally tells the tale of an Orbital Shock Drop Trooper from the Halo-verse. I say literally because Gage, the series’ protagonist, tells the events of the series as a sequence of flashbacks while he is bleeding out on the battlefield. I say maudlin bordering on silly because at one point during his narration, Gage says that he “…can’t remember what he’s fighting for.” Forgive me for being blunt, but it’s Halo. You’re fighting to save humanity from the aliens. The concepts that drive this franchise aren’t known for being subtle.

The series’ two episodes show why Gage joins the UNSC military, how he gets tapped for the elite ODST detail, and chronicle his first taste of action against the Covenant. Yet, there’s nothing that really made me care about this character or the story. Perhaps because Halo is ten years old and I’ve filled in game’s narrative gaps on my own.

Make no mistake, the mood is convincing enough to make me want to like the story. Similarly, I want to care about Gage and his cohorts. Instead I find myself paying more attention things like run-and-gun military tactics that even a video game warrior like myself would never use in combat. The lesson here: if you’re going to go to the trouble of making a FX heavy war story, get somebody who knows a little bit about infantry tactics to consult. Or at least watch a few classic war movies.


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Web Series Review: Job Hunters

I was immediately sceptical when I first read the press release for Job Hunters. How often does a person see the words “dystopian roommate comedy” within the same sentence? By its very nature, the dystopia is not something that lends itself to comedy. Nonetheless, I watched the first episode on the day the series premiered on youtube. After eight minutes and forty-five seconds, Job Hunters had demonstrated two things: a brilliant taste for black humour and bang for the buck production values that put traditional television to shame.

For the record, I gave Job Hunters another four episodes before putting pen to paper on this review.

The premise of the series capitalizes on popular culture’s current fixation on young adult death matches while keeping a healthy distance from other established properties. The setup is straight forward: as a means of population control and social engineering, college graduates report for mandatory arena combat. Within the arena, the grads spend the work day battling each other to the death as a means of showing off their talent to potential recruiters. Their off hours are spent in a safe house where the majority of the series finds its focus. Therein newcomers Devon (Forest Gibson), Avery (Kristina Horner), and Paige (Meagan Naser) form a co-existence pact with arena veterans Max (Joe Homes) and Tiffany (Tara Theoharis). But with an 80% mortality rate, the arena is a dangerous place to make friends.

First question: if this is what happens to college grads, what’s life like for the people who don’t get into a university? Do high school drop outs become Soylent Green?

Initially, I thought that the series might be trying too hard to be all things to all people. Upon further consideration, I’m content to chalk this feeling up to a side effect of pairing something as mainstream as comedy with a sub-genre as specific as near-future dystopia. What emerges, despite the “roommate comedy” branding is a comedic sensibility that is often very dry and very black. Think along the lines of Episodes with a dash of Community’s paint ball oeuvre thrown into the mix. The comedy can often be subtle, but so are the dystopian elements.

There’s also a soft spoken, but decidedly intense, dedication to professionalism within the production of Job Hunters. The post production effects are subtle but add a Mass Effect inspired aesthetic to the gadgets of this near future. The interior of the safe house, as well as the location shots for the arena, are stunning. In addition to the primary cast, there is a venerable army of extras adding to the “this isn’t your average web series” vibe that permeates the production. The music which accompanies key scenes could be mistaken for the work of Bear McCreary or Clint Mansell. And did I mention that each episode is nearly ten minutes long? With the first season funded entirely via kickstarter, and probably no shortage of sweat equity, I can only imagine what wonders the producers would be capable of with a grander budget.

Granted, there is the odd bit of acting ends up chewing the scenery rather than conveying an expected emotion. The character of Doctor Monroe stands out in my mind on that point; the actor in question could have made an at-his-prime Paul Darrow blush. Yet these minor imperfections never amount to much. Instead, the story has kept my focus on the complicated relationship between a group of characters who, in all but one case, refuse to acknowledge that they are going to likely end up killing each other…for a job offer.

And that sense of polite yet high stakes competition speaks to where I think is Job Hunters is going to find its core audience. Consider the series as a metaphor for anybody who graduated university within the last ten years only to find the job market saying “Nah, we’re going to go with somebody older/more experienced/better connected.” Friends quickly turn into rivals when competing for work in a shifting economy. Cognitive dissonance is often the only thing that keeps those relationships from devolving into outright hostility. If I set aside everything else that makes this web series work, the fact that it is using humour rather than a soap box to channel a generation’s anxiety about finding meaningful employment is enough make me sign up for the rest of the season and any others that follow.

Bravo to the entire Job Hunters team. I know I’ll be contributing to the kickstarter for season 2 when it comes around.

You can watch the first episode of the series below and head over to http://watchjobhunters.com/ for updates on the show and behind the scenes video.