Looking to refresh your web series viewing for 2016? Here’s a list of 10 web series that have episodes coming out this year – some on multiple seasons, others just setting out. For a little while, web series have been the “new kids on the block” in the field of film/video content. Easy and cheap (relatively) to produce, easy and cheap to watch, this medium has a lot to offer independent and aspiring filmmakers. However, in my exploration of said brilliant, innovative medium, I was struck by the way that it seems now to be merging with traditional film and television, as these grassroots series are being picked up by mainstream distributors… I can’t quite make up my mind whether I’m happy that these creators are finding their wider audiences, or just a touch disheartened that The Web Series can’t stand on its own.
Three Brooklynites, ex-boyfriends Mitchell (Adam Goldman – creator, director and co-writer) and Jack (Hunter Canning) and their straight, girl friend Oona (Sasha Winters – co-writer), wittily manoeuvre through the hedonistic, cringe-worthy, joyful and toxic maelstrom of adult life. It’s all captured through a cinematic mix of intimate handheld shots and carefully framed set pieces. Notable writer/creator Russell T Davies has praised its “wonderful, clever, kind, precise dialogue”, superb cast, and beautiful cinematography. Catch up on the first season of this critically acclaimed series just in time for its second season, which launches in 2016.
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An African City
A whole team of women is behind this uniquely entrepreneurial web series, which is described on its website as “made just for Africa”… although of course the rest of us can listen in! Nicole Amarteifio seems to have a hand in everything, as creator, writer, co-director AND executive producer, but her cast of actresses originally from various African countries are strong in their own right and bring multi-faceted depictions of Ghanaian women to the screen. Described as an African “Sex And The City”, I think this epithet does the show a disservice, and re-situates it in the context of mega-Americana, whereas what I love about ‘An African City’ is its Ghanaian, or generally African, references.
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R.S. (aka Roll Safe) is the name of this mockumentary web series’ inept protagonist, who swaggers (with the odd stumble) around his “hood”, some small corner of South London, and unfailingly proves hopeless at his “hard man” act. It’s the writing, characterisation and acting that sets this web series apart, and the way that it treads the fine line of spectatorship humour without indulging in cruelty or meanness. R.S. is always sympathetic: too childlike for his arrogance to be off-putting, and is brilliantly brought to life by actor Kayode Ewumi and creator Tyrell Williams. Although this series started on YouTube late last year, BBC Three has now picked up some episodes that are airing in 2016.
Historically, we have been inundated by the image of the catfight – two female rivals clawing, sometimes metaphorically sometimes literally, at each other’s necks. Recently, the backlash to that sexist trend has taken the form of stories about female bonding, female unity. Now, with this new web series, we see the complicated but relatable process of the breakdown of such a devoted female friendship. Real friends Diana Gettinger and Monica Hewes, both actors and writers, star in the web series ‘Ex-Best’ that explores the dysfunction in a female friendship grinding to its end. Taking on the cultural trend that is stripping away the Vaseline-haze or lacy veil on female identity and experiences, ‘Ex-Best’ exposes the two women’s collapsing relationship and their spite born out of it.
Summer Chastant took to Kickstarter with the hope of making a web series that would reveal the darker, or at least not the bright light, of the yoga world. The result, ‘Namaste, Bitches’, is a brilliantly sarcastic series that follows Sabine, one of the yoga teachers, who is more honest about her base human needs/desires. She drinks, smokes weed, sleeps with students and allows anger into her life through a liberal use of a curse word here and there. As well as playing the main role, Chastant also wrote and executive produced the series, which is expertly shot and clearly enjoys a high production value.
The Katering Show
Intolerable foodie, Kate McLennan, and her food intolerant friend, Kate McCartney, are brilliantly funny in this Australian “cooking show” web series. If you are officially *over* current obsessions with specialised foodstuffs, watch the hilarity that ensues as the Kates try and substitute onion for “asafoetida” and other such scenarios. The sketch of them at the organic farmer’s market, in Episode 2 – Ethical Eating, is a wonderful moment of cultural satire. They watch in bewilderment, and slight horror, the people around them who “can afford to have principles”.
The women behind StyleLikeU, Lily Mandelbaum and Elisa Goodkind, have produced a life-affirming and female-empowering series called ‘What’s Underneath’. It’s a very simple set-up, people from all backgrounds and lifestyles sit one-by-one on a stool against a plain background and answer questions about style, life, and dreams. Exploring issues from motherhood to body image, from racial identity to ageing, this pure interview arrangement with a camera focused attentively, but never intrusively, on a single figure, stands out in a wealth of show-boating, flash FX or overly-witty scriptedness.
The mega-star of the web series world is ‘High Maintenance’, a show revolving around a marijuana deliveryman called The Guy and the various people he meets on his rounds of New York City. Created by husband and wife Ben Sinclair (who also plays The Guy) and Katja Blichfeld, these short episodes satisfy some need to peer through the thousands of doors that make up a big city, and create a twisty, unconventional, humanising network of narratives.
Sitting in Bathrooms with Trans People
The vision of this series is very simple, in its production and its message. Confronting recent media-induced public hysteria over the presence of trans individuals in binary-gendered bathrooms, creator Dylan Marron sarcastically seeks to divulge the true secrets of what the various trans people he interviews actually get up to in the bathroom. The first episode sees YouTuber Jackson Bird, who recently came out as transgender, eating waffles as an answer to the question: what do trans people do in there? It’s silly, it’s entertaining, but this series, in its simplicity, contains a very poignant message that subverts recent social debate.
Please can I suggest another toilet-based show, I hear you say? Well, ‘Ladies Room’ is just that. Each episode sees the two argumentative, slightly unhinged women, Dingo and Khanna, in various bathrooms across the city, facing a circus of life’s problems with humour and little competence. The writing by Ratnabali Bhattacharjee and Neha Kaul Mehra is sometimes a little forced, sometimes a little clichéd, but for the most part is highly entertaining, bringing these odd characters to life in their bizarre circumstances. I’m not sure, however, how much this show accurately answers the age-old question of why women tend to go to the bathroom in packs… There’s a bit more farce and a little less realism in these 10-minute episodes.