Web Series Archive


The Season 2 Premiere of House of Cards is Pure Fan Service

Warning: this is not a spoiler free analysis of House of Cards S2E01. If you haven’t yet seen this episode or HoC’s first season, I refer you to my friend Matt Moore’s adroit, spoiler free takedown. Furthermore – I’m only watching one episode per week as to give myself plenty of time to chew through each narrative piece, rather than rushing to print with a hastily constructed review of the entire season.

Between Kevin Spacey’s acting chops and cinematography that blurs the lines between television and cinema, it’s hard to not feel overwhelmed by House of Cards’ outward gravitas. Yet never have I more clearly recalled Princess Irulan’s first line in David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of  Dune, “a beginning is a very delicate time.” This lesson is lost upon House of Cards’ season two premiere. In so much as I was thrilled to see Frank Underwood back in action – wherein the episode actually left me smiling at Zoe’s death – the more I actually thought about the episode, the less it stood up to serious scrutiny.

First and foremost, there’s an obvious stupidity in having Frank, the soon to be Vice-President of the United States, push Zoe onto a subway track. Really? He’s personally going to commit a murder in a metro station, one of the most surveilled places in the Western world, while wearing nothing more than a Walter White hat and hipster glasses as a disguise. Come on.

Well hold on there, Adam. He’ll have to deal with the consequences of that.

Will he? Two scenes later we see a news report dismissing Zoe’s death as accidental. Nor should we forget that as Party Whip, Frank put the DC police in his pocket. I can only imagine the scope of law enforcement influence he will command as VP.

Let us then return to the vacuum of finesse surrounding Zoe’s death. TV is rife with examples of powerful people killing those who threaten their station. However, it is one thing to see Tony Soprano strangling an FBI-rat with his bare hands. To witness the anointed VP personally whacking one of his enemies is something else.

Don’t get me wrong, Zoe was a problematic character from day one. Her lacklustre career in journalism certainly generated some pathos from the audience, but when she proved as depraved and amoral as Frank Underwood she quickly spent that initial coin. All the while the character alternated a “save me/fear me” vibe, which only made her that much more of an alienating figure. If House of Cards were a Greek tragedy, which it may well prove to be, Zoe’s grisly death is certainly well deserved. She rose too high, too quickly, and was burned for her hubris.

Except I’m not an ancient Athenian watching this series, thus I demand more than base appeals to simple notions of justice in my story telling. I demand subtlety and intentional manoeuvring, neither of which is apparent in this episode. The only thing we see therein is three characters acting in the way we would imagine them to act if they were left unguided along an existing trajectory. In other words, fan service.

It’s easy for the audience to imagine Frank murdering a reporter because Frank is a terrible person; RIP Peter Russo, you never had a chance. We can also imagine Claire Underwood forging signatures and setting out to commit infanticide by proxy because she’s a miserable human being and a complete narcissist. Furthermore, Stamper is such a perfect union of Wayland Smithers and Patrick Bateman that it’s easy to see him psychologically dominating Rachel into compliance, alternating fear and reward in an almost Pavlovian way – also, wouldn’t it make more sense to kill the prostitute instead of the potentially useful journalist? Given the perilous and marginalized nature of Rachel’s work, shouldn’t it be a lot easier to murder and cover up her death?

Nothing we see from the three remaining principles is innovative, unexpected, or sophisticated as a story telling device. Frank/Claire/Stamper’s actions are just tropes meant to engage (or re-engage) the audience on a dull and fundamental level. It also raises a question on where the story goes from here with this motley crew?

Having the principle characters be terrible simply because the audience expects them to be terrible is horribly safe writing for a high stakes political drama. In fact, I read it as a cowardly ploy to remove a character that isn’t testing well so there’s more time to revel in Kevin Spacey being evil. Meanwhile, killing Zoe has the benefit of sending a “the stakes have never been higher” message without actually having to do anything. Now the only challenge to Frank will have to come from secondary characters (probably either Janine or Christina) which in turn will require extensive time to develop those characters to a point of significance. Simply put, Caesar needs a new Brutus.

In the interim, the show can default to giving the people what they want without really having to do anything new. That, in my estimation, is the definition of fan service, and House of Cards is capable of better than that. Obviously there is plenty of time for things to get better. I won’t judge a whole season on a single episode. I am, however, finding it just a bit harder to rally behind Frank Underwood without questioning my own moral compass, and I fear two or three episodes of him being evil while the writers break in a new foil will further drive Frank toward inaccessibility.


First Impressions of Star Trek Continues

I fear for the potential hit my nerd credibility is going to take in admitting I only recently watched the first episode of Star Trek Continues. Of course, I knew the project was out there, peppering the internet with cast photos, sound bites, and vignette videos. I knew that Mythbusters’ Grant Imahara was on-deck to reprise George Takei’s role of Lt. Hikaru Sulu. Only when the second episode, Lolani, hit the internet over the weekend did I come to realize that this fan-made effort to pick up where Star Trek: TOS left off in 1969 is actually happening.

The first thing to catch my attention was the premiere episode’s runtime – 52 minutes. Most web series do 50 to 60 minutes as a season. This isn’t simply Star Trek reborn to suit the web, it’s Star Trek as it used to be. That means the STC crew are producing the equitant of a feature length film from a $100,000 Kickstarter and no shortage of sweat equity. Wow.

The bumper to the first episode, Pilgrim of Eternity, sees Captain Kirk, now played Vic Mignogna – who is also the series’ EP and director – staring down the barrel of a single action revolver as Scotty (Chris Doohan i.e.  James Doohan’s son) explains the ins and outs of his newly installed holo-suite. What is truly remarkable is Kirk’s exit into the Enterprise’s corridors. He emerges not into a vague rendering of what the Enterprise should look like, but into the Enterprise as it looked in the 1960s – or that one episode of Deep Space 9.

Everything about the sets, costumes, props, and special effects perfectly captures the aesthetic and tone of the original series. Even the lighting and camera angles seem ripped from Roddenberry’s playbook. I can’t begin to fathom how much effort went into creating a pitch-perfect recreation of Star Trek while layering in just enough of a modern post-production flourish as not to break retro-future charm.

My wonder only grew as the pre-credit bumper led to Apollo (still played by Michael Forest of Who Mourns for Adonais) materializing on the bridge of the Enterprise. Forest’s screen presence is utterly befitting the god of poetry and theatre. As it’s clear that some of the cast are attempting to negotiate the fine line between making the characters their own and paying respect to the actors who inhabited them previously, Forest is, to quote General Chang, “As constant as the northern star.”

The story, itself, is very genuine in its attempt to capture Star Trek’s ongoing nature as a morality play. Apollo, having been aged by an artificial realm meant to house the Olympians after humanity rejected them, is near death and wants nothing more than to live out his remaining days as a mortal among mortals. Kirk, however, is reticent to settle him for fear that life among humans will awaken his megalomania. Though the script is a little uneven in places, the episode is wholly charming as Apollo attempts to prove himself to the senior staff, particularly a mistrusting Scotty. There’s even a delightful moment when Apollo questions Kirk on the inherent moral cowardice of the Prime Directive.

I dare say it is in that moment Mignogna sells me on his portrayal of Kirk. Certainly he’s drawing some inspiration from Shatner – how could he not – but there’s a quiet subtlety in his Kirk. He seems more confident in his command, less brash, and more prone to thoughtfulness rather than sheer bravado. It makes sense considering the emotional and personal turmoil that Kirk endured during the first three years of the five year mission. Then again, I’ve only seen one episode, and I know the second features an Orion slave girl, so perhaps Kirk’s swagger might come out there.

Star Trek Continues gives every indication of being a worthy successor to the original series. It elegantly resurrects the USS Enterprise (No, bloody A, B,C, or D) with all the polish and detail of a network television production. There’s a genuine sense of idealism in the narrative, a trope that has long sense fallen out of vogue within post 9/11 science fiction. The cast’s conviction in selling this tone brings the entire experience together. Kudos to cast and crew.

Check it out here or head over to the Star Trek Continues webpage.


What is Noobcamp and Why Does it Want Your Money?

The creators of Noobcamp have taken an interesting tack in presenting their web series’ kickstarter campaign. Therein, they acknowledge the novelty of web television as an emerging concept. At the same time, they pull no punches in suggesting that the web series, as a whole, is trying to find its way as a vehicle for telling an effective story.

…many web shows just follow actors around with cameras while the actors discuss their backstory.

It is in this fashion that the Mayview production team declared their goal of crafting a web series that takes full advantage of established cinematic techniques in conveying a narrative. An outside observer might be tempted to suggest that the production is inviting a special kind of hubris with their generalizations about the state of web media. I certainly don’t think any of the web series I’ve reviewed are burdened by an abundance of world building. Then again, it is a big internet out there. To borrow a phrase from Roy Batty, perhaps they’ve seen things I wouldn’t believe.

This aside, the six minute pitch video, the one minute trailer – which incidentally does a fantastic job of showing rather than telling – and a mission statement citing games and film as life affirming experiences, were enough to pique my interest in this project. Using David Mamet’s quote about illiterates inventing “backstory” may have also helped seal the deal.

So rather than summarizing, I’ll let the series speak for itself.

Noobcamp is a story about an ex-professional gamer who is forced to teach a video game camp for kids. Johnny7, as he was once known, was among the top pro gamers in the world and made millions in endorsements. The show picks up several years after his downfall. Johnny, now mid-20s, reckless and jaded from his fame and fortune, is probably the worst person for the job, but he may be exactly what they need.

Even if Noobcamp doesn’t revolutionize the medium, which would be rather challenging to do without going into art house territory, it does seem like something I would gladly watch. In fact, I may kick in four dollars if only for the executive producer credit.

As of the time of this post, Noobcamp is about 81% of the way to its $25,000 goal with 52 hours remaining on the campaign. Would you like to know more? Click here to head over to their kickstarter page for all the details.


Podcast Episode 27: The Page of Reviews/Limited Release Handsome-cast live at Ad Astra 2013

Featuring the voices of Adam Shaftoe and Nick Montgomery

There’s a certain safety net to the way I record my podcasts. Even when I have a guest with me, we both know that if somebody says something stupid (usually me) there’s a chance to say it again and leave the gaffe on the floor of the digital cutting room. Last Sunday, Nick Montgomery and I tossed caution to the wind and recorded a podcast in front of a live audience, which actually grew by about 28% from start to finish.

The results were pretty good.

Granted, the fact that I had about 33 seconds to balance the audio levels shows up in the podcast, but I’ll call that a lesson learned for the next time I do something like this.

Upon review I also noticed that I didn’t really tell the important part of the Ben Bova story. Sufficed to say, Ben Bova was not the Asimov doppelganger. Dr. Bova, however, did inform me that the Asimov look was the natural appearance for the gentleman in question.

So on that note, I present you with the first ever live before an audience Page of Reviews / Limited Release cross over podcast.

Topics under discussion include:

-   Gamers 3

-   Versus Valerie

-   Community

-   Deadwood

-   The history of swearing

-   Kickstarter

-   Veronica Mars

-   The fine art of Directing

-   Shameless plugs for current projects

Huge thanks to Nick Montgomery for coming out to record this experiment. Make sure to head over to the Limited Release Podcast to check out all of Nick and Candice’s fine work.

As well, thanks to everybody who came out on a Sunday to listen to our prattle, and to Ad Astra for letting us put on our show.


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.


Podcast Episode 25: Q&A with Jonathan Robbins, creator of the web series Clutch

Two new podcast releases in the same month? Wow, I must really feel guilty for the long months of silence in between episode twenty-three and twenty-four.

Topics under discussion include:

-   What is Clutch?

-   Clutch’s nature as a Hard-R rated web series.

-   A couple degrees of Craig Ferguson.

-   The relationship between art and violence.

-   Jonathan on directing.

-   The challenges of producing Clutch.

-   Web series and their awards.

-   The state and future of digital mediums.

Once again, congratulations to Jonathan and the entire cast and crew of Clutch on their Streamy nomination.

Head over to clutchtheseries.com to check out the entire first season and the first half of season two.

Feature track: Nerevar Rising as arranged by Blake Robinson from the album Video Game Orchestrations Volume 1.

Cold Intro Music: The Lady of Vastness by Dan-O at DanoSongs.com

Theme music:  Bionic Commando stage 4 (Dale vs Wray mix) (NecroPolo) / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0


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.


Doctor Horrible’s TV Debut: Interesting, but not a Game Changer.

Last week Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog made its television debut on the CW Network. As I did indeed sing along to Captain Hammer’s (Nathan Fillion) character defining song A Man’s Gotta Do, musing on just how much money I’d spent on Horrible merch since 2008 (A Hammer shirt, an iTunes purchase of the series and soundtrack, and the DVD – you do the math) I began to wonder about the point of airing a quintessential web series on conventional television. I’ve since come to the conclusion that televising the unrequited love story of Billy (Neil Patrick Harris) and Penny (Felica Day) was in fact Joss Whedon blowing a raspberry in the face of the establishment.

Well, it’s either a raspberry or a way to get his name back on television as a warm-up to his upcoming S.H.I.E.L.D TV show. But if that’s the case then this blog post sort of falls apart. So for the moment, let us assume Dr. Horrible + TV = a very quiet middle finger to a dying medium.

As a cultural phenomenon, Dr. Horrible is old news. Unless you’re very new to the internet and its distinct culture (cat videos, Wil Wheaton, vlogs, memes, XKCD comics, web series, et cetera) the chances are good you already know the Hammer is not Nathan Fillion’s fists. This reality likely produced two sorts of people watching Dr. Horrible on TV: those who knew what the hammer is, and everybody else who was learning for the first time.

To the second group, the message is obvious; this is what you’ve been missing by not watching internet television. For the vast majority who were watching Horrible because they love it/because it was there/because Joss Whedon is their nerd lord and sovereign the message was different. To this particular in crowd, the subtext was more along the lines of “look how awful the viewing experience is on conventional television.”

And wow was it painful.

The roughly thirty minute runtime of Dr. Horrible was stretched out to fill a one hour block. Though I expected commercials at the end of each of the series’ three acts, the mid-act commercial breaks were jarring and unnatural. Remember, this is a series written for the internet. In-act scene transitions do not lend themselves to the act break commercial structure that goes with 42 to 44 minutes of narrative television.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the CW treated the Doc just like they would any other piece of programming. Every couple of minutes there was a dancing “VD” for Vampire Dairies in the bottom right corner of the screen (notice me staying classy here and not going for the obvious joke about venereal disease). Sometimes the CW network watermark would get shot with an arrow as a promotion for Smallville redux Arrow. Where the internet empowers viewers with the option to close annoying crap like that, TV trapped me with its now flagrant in-program advertising.

But the worst crime was the CW’s decision to reformat Doctor Horrible out of 16:9 into a conventional 4:3 aspect ratio. I make a lot of concessions to the ancien regime of media when I turn on the television, but catering Dr. Horrible toward people who own old CRT tube sets crosses the line.

Everything about watching Dr. Horrible on TV made me long for the low budget honesty of the web series. A world where a viewer can watch something in whatever format they want, at whichever resolution their net connection can support, and where commercials may intro and extro a video, but they don’t interrupt the flow of the story. Nowhere was I more acutely aware that I was watching television than when I was watching something not meant for television. And through it all I could hear Whedon blowing his raspberry, not at me, but at the network itself. For he had insinuated something meant for one medium into another and in doing so proved just how unsuited conventional media is for assimilating new media into its pantheon.

Therefore, our take away from having Dr. Horrible on the CW should not be a thesis on Whedon as the king of transmedia. When we stop to think about the limitations of television’s fixed narrative structure, Doctor Horrible has no business being on the air. So kudos to Whedon for sneaking one past The Man. Bravo for showcasing how the main stream can embody the indie spirit; Dr. Horrible was a product of the 2007 writer’s strike. But nobody should presume Dr. Horrible’s TV debut is indicative of a two-way street between web media and television.


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.


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.