The ability of streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon to deliver series that creatively, financially and critically rival that of network TV has significantly increased interest in—and decreased stigmas about—web-based media. Critical and audience reception of short form digital content is changing, and fast: No longer are web series associated only with low-budget or one-off pastime projects. Digital streaming platforms like YouTube Red and Comic Con HQ have turned the Internet into a home for original and progressive storytelling. Driven by that changing perception, this year saw one of digital short form’s strongest and smartest showings yet. In the age of “peak TV,” viewing on the go and crowd-sourced financing, these are the 2016 web series that prove the future of digital media is already here.
7. Mark Hamill’s Pop Culture Quest
Creators: Mark Hamill and Howard Kazanjian
In recent years, the TV landscape has become saturated with two seemingly niche interests: comics and collecting. Superheroes and professional pickers fill network line-ups, revealing a growing fascination with the world of hobby enthusiasts. Star Wars and Batman legend Mark Hamill explores the intersection of these trends in his very own Comic-Con HQ series, Mark Hamill’s Pop Culture Quest. A self-proclaimed collector, Hamill and his puppet sidekick take viewers on a deep dive into the fascinating world of geeky collectors and reveal the origins of our most passionate fans and fandoms. Celebrated artists like the legendary Jim Lee and influential collectors like Godzilla aficionado Scott Zillner and movie prop appreciator Bob Burns sit down and discuss their lifelong passions. Meanwhile, audiences get an inside look at DC Comics headquarters and the homes of pop culture collectors, all filled to the brim with recognizable comic book and pop-culture memorabilia. Get an up-close look at some of the world’s greatest collections and the people that make them a reality in this quirky and insightful series.
6. Paranormal Action Squad
Creator: Michael Rowe
YouTube gaming sensations Vanoss (Evan Fong), SeaNanners (Adam Montoya) and Mr_Sark (Scott Matthew Robison) are the voices behind this referential, off-color sci-fi comedy. The first animated series on YouTube’s original content platform, YouTube Red, Paranormal Action Squad follows somewhat awkward and ill-equipped spirit enthusiasts Paul (Montoya) and Eddie (Robison) as they work to make “the living dead dead again.” Joined by squad-mates Orb (a tiny “cool girl” in a purple orb) and PAD (a brassy and hyper-literal ‘80s computer), the duo takes down demonic DJs who ensnare spirits in eternal dance parties and use “bruh” unironically. Vanoss, their enthusiastic, underappreciated, owl-headed neighbor, tags along for these desperate and hilarious occult dilemmas, adding a much-appreciated level of off-the-wall action. Rowe successfully infuses his hallmark comic timing, tension, physicality and dialogue from past projects like Coach, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson and Futurama into this pop-culturally clever, two-dimensional spoof on paranormal programming.
4. The Katering Show
Creators: Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan
Since the release of Burning Love in 2012, more and more short form series have begun using our guiltiest unscripted obsessions as comic fodder. For Australian creative duo and The Katering Show’s creators Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan, that means mercilessly mocking TV’s preoccupation with cooking in front of a camera. The self-described attractive TV chefs’ trademark shooting styles and episode format are equal parts Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, Julia Child’s kitchen and midnight cooking infomercial. Their hilarious spin on culinary series aims to capture our “cultural food revolution,” from intolerances to food trucks. However, it’s really the Kates’ willingness to bring anything into their kitchen—street food, raw food, cooked food, food porn and regular porn—that nails their near perfect parody of the genre. Season One was pretty outlandish, but Season Two takes the funny even further as they cover the food waste movement, fad diets and cooking with placenta. Whether you’re a casual foodie, an experienced cuisine aficionado or just someone looking for a seriously good laugh, you’ll enjoy McCartney and McLennan’s raucous commentary on our food fixation.
3. Single by 30
Creators: Wesley Chan and Philip Wang
An endearing romantic comedy, Single By 30 explores what happens after the promises we make in our youth come back to help us. This friends-to-lovers tale follows Peter (Glee’s Harry Shum, Jr.) and Joanna (Kina Grannis), besties from high school who drift apart after graduation. When life unexpectedly brings Joanna back home, the still-single and almost-30 friends reconnect. Determined to marry before they “age out,” the two assist one another in their relationship quests, with one condition: If they can’t find someone, they’ll fall back on their high school pact to marry each other. Romantic dramedies largely went out of style in the mid-2000s, but Single by 30 is an earnest return to form that’s defined not by any cheesy, circumstantial romanticism, but rather by its authentic realization of loving in a modern age. Outside of the talented cast’s charming chemistry, the series’ greatest strength lies in its ability to reflect the exhilaration and complication of love in the now—from managing a Tinder account and moving in together to generational discrepancies and a diversifying dating pool. This short form selection addresses the nuances of romance for the millennial generation while delivering a sincere and refreshing look at the perpetual struggle of finding (and falling in) love.
2. Inhuman Condition
Creator: RJ Lackie
From KindaTV comes supernatural drama Inhuman Condition, a critically acclaimed, 33-episode series set in a world where the supernatural is an acknowledged—if not always accepted—way of life. Torri Higginson (Stargate: Atlantis) stars as Dr. Michelle Kessler, a court-ordered therapist who meets with “inhuman” patients, or three gifted and tortured people living with supernatural afflictions like lycanthropy or zombieism. They attend Kessler’s therapy sessions with a single goal: find a way to control what makes them dangerous. Sci-fi is already difficult to master on traditional TV (what with the small screen’s tighter production schedules and limited budgets), but Inhuman Condition uses the limitations of its storytelling format to its advantage. Shortened screen time and a minimal use of visual effects amp up the mystery behind both the inhuman and human characters’ terrifying or monstrous potentials. This well acted and edited Hitchcockian approach to thrills allows viewers’ imaginations to do the show’s heavy lifting while its characters drive complex and mindful conversations about real-world issues. Storylines both directly and indirectly tackle discrimination, radical resistance, anxiety disorders and disease, giving a dark edge to even the characters’ more mundane plots.
The full list was first published at Paste Magazine on December 12, 2016.