At this point (after their gajillion-dollar Super Bowl ad campaign), everyone knows about Hulu.com, the site created by NBC, Fox, and ABC to provide their shows legally online. If you haven’t, go right now, and return after you’ve caught up on Parks and Recreation, Full Metal Alchemist, and Real Housewives of Atlanta. If you’re outside the U.S., sorry—you’re out of luck.
Basically, Hulu is a slick site for promoting TV shows and letting you stream them online, rather than catching bootleg vids on YouTube, the HD version of the same crap vids on Vimeo, or pirating them entirely. Whether or not it’s working is another matter. If TV networks don’t make their shows available on Hulu (or Joost), chances are they have a media player on their own site, allowing you to watch at least a few of their episodes in full—if not entire seasons. Since the advent of Saturday night marathons, there has not been a better way to spend a lazy twelve hours gorging oneself on entire seasons of previously-aired programming.
But none of this answers this question: Where can one go to find original programming made specifically for the web?
The answer—in a loosely culled, un-exhaustive collection—is here:
Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. What it is: A three-part musical about a wannabe super villain trying to defeat his arrogant nemesis (Captain Hammer) and win over his true crush at the same time. Why it made this list: Easily the most successful web show thus far, Dr. Horrible is the brainchild of Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly). By shooting the show during the WGA strike, Whedon was able to acquire big-name talent, such as Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion, as well as Internet darling Felicia Day. Well-written, well-conceived, well-scored—this thing was so good the Emmys created a new category for web shows, just so they could give it to Dr. Horrible.
Mayne Street. What it is: Monotoned ESPN funnyman Kenny Mayne goes on five-minute adventures filming spots for the sports channel. Why it made this list: Some people say this is the tightest comedy writing you’re bound to find in a web series. I have no idea who those people are, but they’re probably right. Everyone in this cast of four is hilarious: the cowboy cameraman, the uptight field producer, the unctuous network man and most of all, the apathetic newsman himself. Since they have ESPN studios, offices and equipment at their disposal, each episode has great production value and changes in setting.
Pure Pwnage. What it is: A documentary-style series on the life a professional video gamer. Why it made this list: A lot of web series cater to the gamer crowd (such as Red vs. Blue), an obvious overlap of demographics. But none had managed to reach past that audience until Pure Pwnage and The Guild. In the case of the former, we watch a lazy, arrogant, twenty-something guy try to keep a girlfriend while only caring about “schooling noobs.” (On second thought, maybe The Guild has a better shot at escape velocity—see below.) Nonetheless, PP recently landed a series deal with the Canadian TV network Showcase.
The Guild. What it is: Based on the cosmically popular MMORPG World of Warcraft, this series follows one particular guild of online adventurers, as well as their real lives. Why it made this list: Written and created by Felicia Day (who is garnering Natalie Portman levels of nerd-cred), The Guild is basically an ensemble comedy with a quirky cast of misfits. You don’t have to roll with level-70 elf mages to connect with the characters, although it doesn’t hurt. The show has already been showered with awards (Rolling Stone called it the best net serial, and it took three Streamy awards in 2009 alone). Best of all, the show seems to be getting better with each season.
Quarterlife. What it is: A bunch of twenty-five-year-olds chase their dreams in L.A.; by the creators of My So-Called Life and Thirtysomething. Why it made this list: Well, it had to be this or The Burg as the representative of all the web series centred around modern post-college ennui. Though Quarterlife was picked up by NBC, it was immediately canceled after the first episode aired (and set the record for worst ratings in the 17 years in that timeslot). For most critics, this failure seemed to prove that web shows couldn’t translate well to traditional television. Then again, most media doesn’t translate all that well across other media; big deal.
The West Side. What it is: Something unique to both TV and the Web: an urban western shot in black and white, with meticulously slow pacing and enough creativity to get the young creators quite a bit of buzz. Why it made this list: It isn’t perfect. The pacing for any western shouldn’t be hectic, but this seems almost experimentally unhurried. But the shots are beautiful, the concept is better than most anything you’ll find, and like all good things, it was cut short. After four episodes, the intended 12-episode arc was halted due to budgeting problems. Check it out, though, and see raw talent slowly refining itself.
Sorority Forever. What it is: The most exclusive sorority in the world has a dark and terrible secret, starring web-celeb Lonelygirl15. Why it made this list: As with the other web series on The WB, Children’s Hospital, Sorority Forever seems more like three-minute chunks of a 30-minute show. It’s as though the network is trying out its junior varsity material online to see whether they’ll catch on. Not a bad idea, necessarily—if it creates a new venue for unaired pilots.
Jake & Amir. What it is: One-shot interactions between straight-man Jake and ludicrous weirdo Amir. Why it made this list: For my money, this the best material the College Humor empire is creating. Comedy duos are a tough act to follow, and even tougher to make seem original. Jake and Amir is great for those listless hours bouncing from link to YouTube link.