2012 saw a lot of great new web series from surprising new sources. For what seemed like the first time, tech companies invested big money - and pulled big names - into original online video programming.
In this digital programming horse race there was one clear, seemingly from left field, winner: Yahoo. Specifically Yahoo! Screen, the company’s version of Google’s original programming initiative.
Yahoo! Screen’s web series had high production values, famous names and compelling, relevant writing. In an interview with USA Today back in July, Vice President and Head of Video for Yahoo Erin McPherson called the digital projects “online digital blockbusters.”
The “online digital blockbusters” however, failed to get the same marketing push most Hollywood blockbuster movies receive, so chances are you've probably never heard of them. This is not a problem unique to Yahoo; YouTube, Hulu and Crackle have also all failed to get the word out on their great web shows. (It is also possible one factor limiting the spread of Yahoo's original programming is the inability to embed their videos anywhere.) Regardless, this list is the best of the best, the true hidden gems of Internet content.
Electric City (Yahoo Screen)
Created by Tom Hanks, who also stars as the leading man (and deadly assassin), this animated post-apocalyptic sci-fi series is thoroughly entertaining and ambitious. Like most web series these days, there was also an interactive component, and like modern society, everyone is obsessed with electricity - except in this world, it is scarce. Also, the series is not really for little kids: Hank's character snaps a criminal's neck in the first episode, after said criminal beat his wife. Nominated for a 2012 Streamy Award as "Best Animated Series."
Cybergeddon (Yahoo Screen)
Anthony E. Zuiker, the same guy who created the hit TV show CSI, has tried his hand at a web series, and it's good. Cybergeddon is a pertinent, fast and fun cyber-terrorism thriller the New York Times called "better than your average TV-movie." (I'd say it is way better.) The series is again not for children, and is a sly advert for Norton Internet Security. Nominated for four 2012 Streamy Awards; Best Male and Female Performance in a Drama, Best Ensemble Cast and Best Branded Entertainment series.
Burning Love (Yahoo Screen)
Ken Marino stars in this "Bachelor" parody, meaning he lives in a house with a bunch of women and tries to narrow down who his contractually obligated bride will be based on superficial - sometimes absurd- criteria. The series was just signed for a second and third season, so you know it found an audience, despite Yahoo's marketing shortcomings. Not for kids. Nominated for five Streamy Awards, including Best Male and Female Performance, Best Ensemble Cast and Best Comedy.
Hulu's first foray into scripted television is a mockumentary, in the style of The Office, about a dark horse political campaign for a Democrat in Wisconsin with a corrupt past. The comparisons to The Office stop there, however, and the film crew actually plays a pivotal role in the series by driving a major plot point. Not for kids, either. Nominated for two Streamy Awards, for Best Male and Female Performance in a Drama.
Video Game High School (YouTube)
Created by Freddie Wong and Co (Rocket Jump), this web series was actually not part of Google's original programming initiative - with Wong raising funds successfully through Kickstarter. The series is a first for the seemingly self-taught film-maker, and comes close to being a romantic comedy. The action-packed series takes place in an alternative reality where video games are treated as a mainstream sport complete with TV commentators, and students are recruited to top schools based off their gaming skills. (So yes, this series is for a younger crowd.) Nominated for two Streamy Awards; Best Ensemble Cast and Best Production Design.
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (YouTube)
This re-adaption of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice has gotten favorable reviews from outlets like Wired, Gigaom and USA Today and the cast was a hit at last year's VidCon, but the series has struggled to break more than a million views on its first episode. (The series is rather niche in its appeal, after all.) Cast members also behave like real Internet citizens, with their own Tumblr, Lookbook and Twitter accounts, giving the audience that transmedia interactive experience that is so hot right now. Created by Hank Green and Bernie Su, the duo hasn't ruled out adapting other classics for YouTube in the future. Nominated for five Streamy Awards including Best Writing; Comedy and Best Interactive Program.
Seven Minutes in Heaven (Yahoo Screen)/Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (Crackle)
Both series are interview shows; SNL writer Mike O'Brien interviews various celebrities in a small closet and then tries to kiss them leading to a hilariously awkward exchange, and Jerry Seinfeld drives around in classic or unusual cars interviewing various comedians on a coffee run.
Geek and Sundry/Nerdist (YouTube)
Both Felicia Day (Geek and Sundry) and Chris Hardwick (Nerdist) were funding recipients in Google's original content investment, and the King and Queen of geek culture have diversified their channels offerings to include something for well, every nerd. Both Geek and Sundry and Nerdist offer a variety of shows for every day of the week: Geek and Sundry has Day vlogging on Monday and Space Janitors on Tuesday for example, while Hardwick has shows like All Star Celebrity Bowling, Neil Patrick Harris' Puppet Dreams and Star Talk with Neil Degrasse Tyson.
This quirky mockumentary about the music industry was created by YouTube community favorites the Fine Brothers, and features a heavy set of Internet celebrities as well as pop culture and Internet references - one character is based off 4chan phenom Boxxy, for instance - and has a bit of a Portlandia feel. The show also has various components including a regular music news component, and all characters have associated online Twitter profiles much in the way of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Nominated for nine Streamy Awards, including Best Editing, Best Visual Effects, and Best Comedy Series.
Lead image courtesy of YouTube.