The Internet is full of great content, some of which is buried under a sea of mediocre nonsense. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of working with and on some incredible projects, and it never ceases to amaze me just how much someone can do on a budget that most production companies would exceed on a single camera.
One thing the greatest Web series have in common is that they capture their audience’s attention and maintain it from episode to episode. Video and audio series depend on audience retention, and a good one will span across multiple seasons and expand into different mediums including physical merchandise and/or spin-off series. Here are five of my favorite Internet series that you should know about.
Tales from the Afternow is the creation of a Canadian named Sean Kennedy, directed by James O’Brien, and distributed by RantMedia. A self-published horror writer and radio host, Sean Kennedy knows a thing or two about storytelling. The Afternow series has maintained popularity since its introduction almost 10 years ago. This popularity has only grown recently with the creation of an animated short by James O’Brien from RantMedia and award winning animator David T. Krupicz based on the second episode of Tales From the Afternow, Little Rocks.
Afternow is set in the not-so distant future, a post-apocolyptic world where time is copyrighted, cities have been turned into giant corporate structures known as “archologies,” and water is a rare commodity. Your protagonist, Sean Kennedy the VI, is a librarian (an illegal profession in the world of Afternow) who travels through the wastelands in search of information and shelter. He was given a frequency for transmitting audio reports to the past in hopes of preventing this grim future from taking place. These recordings range from personal accounts to stories about people and events that take place in this time after now.
Sean Kennedy, the writer and vocal talent for the series, attributes its success to countless hours of D&D role-playing, which helped him to hone his storytelling skills. This storytelling ability must be pretty good, as the animated short has netted an impressive array of film festival awards including Best Animated Science Fiction at the 2010 Dragon*Con short film festival.
Episodes from the original Tales from the Afternow series can be downloaded directly (for free).
Red vs. Blue is in its ninth season online, and the laughs keep on coming. What started as an interesting and quirky delve into the world of machinima has become a staple in the industry, and a benchmark on which similar Web series are judged. Abbreviated as RvB, few Web series have expanded to reach such a broad and diverse audience.
The original run of Red vs. Blue, the Blood Gulch Chronicles, ran for five seasons and followed two teams as they fought for control of an otherwise useless patch of land in the middle of a desert. The fight itself confused members of both teams, wondering why it was they were fighting so hard to control a patch of land that granted no meaningful strategic or resource advantage.
Later plots including Recovery One, Reconstruction, Relocated, Recreation, Revelation, and what’s simply being known as Season Nine have expanded the story beyond the bounds of the original Blood Gulch Chronicles. Since its release in April of 2003, RvB has seen almost 200 episodes and special videos, and a production method that has extended far past its original simple machinima.
Red vs. Blue started as an unplanned series that was written week by week with major plot elements being added on a whim. Over time, this writing process become more refined and detailed as the audience grew and the idea of keeping the series running season after season became a more realistic expectation. After nine seasons, Red Vs. Blue continues to thrive.
Before becoming a series on Showtime, Pure Pwnage was a Web series produced by a handful of friends. This series follows Jeremy, a self-proclaimed pro gamer, as he takes on the real world. His brother, Kyle, is a film student who decides to make Jeremy the subject of his film project. The project becomes so successful that it continues and eventually starts receiving offers to become a full-fledged TV show. In reality, the makers of Pure Pwnage were able to sign a show deal with Showtime, making it one of the most financially successful, independently produced Web series in history.
Pure Pwnage has two seasons available for free viewing on its website. These seasons follow a split storyline in which Jeremy, and his friends, explore the world of gaming. In another storyline, Jeremy is part of an underground society of gamers with special powers who fight in the real world using controllers and keyboards as weapons.
If you could ask a ninja anything you wanted, what would you ask? That’s the premise of the popular Web series, Ask a Ninja. Without a doubt, Ask a Ninja is one of the most unique Web-based series out there. Debuting in November of 2005, Ask a Ninja began giving answers to various audience-sourced questions such as “What do ninjas eat?” and “How long do ninjas live?”
During the series, the Ninja has tackled numerous important topics and featured some interesting guests. In the 50th episode, he kidnapped Jessica Lee Rose (of LonelyGirl15 fame) and gave her a bag of snakes for her plane trip to New Zealand.
Ask a Ninja became a cornerstone of Web video since its founding in 2005, and was an instant hit among geek audiences for its humor and, let’s face it, geeks love ninjas.
Mortal Kombat: Legacy
All right, who doesn’t love an awesome Web series based on a popular computer game? The series, written and directed by Kevin Tancharoen, is set in the world of Mortal Kombat and features the acting talents of Jeri Ryan, Michael Jai White, Darren Shahlavi, Tahmoh Penikett, and more.
Mortal Kombat: Legacy serves as a reboot to any previous Mortal Kombat series. It brings the well-known characters of the Mortal Kombat universe together in a new way, and explains how they relate to each other.
With all this in mind, is there any reason not to look for great Web series to fulfill your entertainment needs? Every minute, enough content is uploaded to video sharing sites like YouTube and Blip.tv to fill 41 hours of constant viewing. You never know when a great Web series might come, so it’s not a bad idea to keep your eyes open and try something new.