September 1st, 2009
The biggest challenge facing a show, in the past, was bringing in new viewers. In an age of repeats as the only way to really engage with a show outside of new episodes, anything serialized faced intense challenge. However, as we all know, the internet and DVD have made this easier than ever, and there’s no better example than this than Felicia Day’s hit web series The Guild.
If there was ever an argument for the benefit of internet distribution methods, I’d say this is it: the show remains independently produced by Day, but through funding agreements with various sponsors (including Microsoft) the show has an extensive footprint across various different platforms, and has only increased in both scale and quality since its first season. And due to the ease of access (with episodes on YouTube, at WatchtheGuild.com, as well as streaming on XBox Live and on DVD) of the first two seasons, anyone can catch up as I did, late at night when I ran out of other things to watch and decided to see what all the fuss was about.
The Guild is ultimately, like any good show, about characters and their various nuances. It is unquestionably a comedy, testing the strength of online relationships in the context of the real world to hilarious and awkward results, but at its core is a sort of sadness of Vork’s hermit-like state, and horror at Clara’s child care standards. I won’t pretend to take the show as a social commentary, but there is something beneath its comedy that shows a real appreciation for the types of people who play these games, and the sense of serialized character development that defines the best sitcoms (at least in my eyes).
I went through the first two seasons about a month ago, and really enjoyed them: the first season was sharp in its integration of Bladezz back into the folds (and letting Codex/Zaboo’s odd-couple relationship remain the show’s focus), while the second season worked perhaps even better in splitting everyone up into groups now that the character types had been integrated. When I started the show, it seemed like everyone would be stuck in front of their webcams and we’d be watching the drama of the guild infiltrate their real lives, but now we’re seeing it work the other way around (to a degree) with the real life influencing the guild.
Here’s a link to the premiere at MSN.com, and then my thoughts on the premiere after the jump.
Being only 5-6 minutes long, each episode of The Guild is about two things: the cliffhanger at the end which leaves you looking forward to the next episode, and the small references and content that get worked into the episode. It’s funny, really: the show is about a form of entertainment that is known for long, drawn-out sessions, whereas the show itself is about these shorts bursts, creating a very different sort of narrative structure in terms of engaging with a “game world” and a “show world,” so to speak.
The result is that each character gets their beat in the episode to catch us up with where they are now: Zaboo is still making out with the tall chick, Clara is still neglecting her children, Tink is still very much angry at Bladezz for deleting her character, Bladezz has been forced to get a job (At Cheesy Beard’s) to pay for the merchandise Tink made him purchase, and Vork remains angry at Clara for hunting after him for refusing her efforts to bid on the orb. While some shows might have spent a lot of time in their premiere investigating this, The Guild is all about getting it out of the way quickly – there’s no extraneous dialogue on the show outside of Codex’s little opening monologue, a signature tagline that lets Felicia Day be adorable and charming so as to welcome us back into this zany world with a relatively sane individual.
The episode is driven by the momentous event of a new expansion for their game, the kind of video gamer specific reference that makes us chuckle and that would probably puzzle others. As it is, it worked really well: here’s something that all of the characters share, but they are all at each other’s throats due to the events at Codex’s party. Thus, you have a reason for all of them to be together (well, outside of Tink, who has hired a homeless proxy to avoid Bladezz), and yet plenty of reasons for their relationship to be extremely strained (whether it’s Codex’s frustration with Zaboo’s making out encroaching her space, or Vork’s inability to control his inner rage for how he has once again lost control of the Guild). Meanwhile, Codex tries to get everyone excited about the new Wind Powers, and the new continents, and the new hairstyles, trying in vain to use the game to unite her motley crue.
As for that ending, it introduces two things. The first is that it follows a trend of internet shows using other internet celebrities: Wil Wheaton is fairly big on the Twitter, as the kids would say, so he makes a good fit to play the head of the competing guild, connecting various fandoms behind a single series.
More importantly, though, it continues the show’s central statement that the real world is, in many ways, like the game itself. By placing the two guilds, who would normally be competing in the context of the game, into a conflict situation in the real world, it allows them to play even more with the fun of switching between the two realities. The competing guild (The Axis of Anarchy) seems much more confrontational and united in a real world structure, and their example might be just what the Guild needs to be able to rebuild itself. It’s a clever little structure, and one that I’m looking forward to see unfold in the weeks ahead.
Now, being a short little show like this, I won’t be blogging it on a regular basis. However, be sure to check my Twitter feed, as I’ll be posting when new episodes go up and perhaps offering a thought or two.
- Clara giving her kids the receiving side of the baby monitor is so fitting – she’s always been the most sensationalist character, so it works for her to make such terrible decisions. That said, kind of wanted to see a shot of them wandering around the children’s section or something.
- I dare say that Gamestop may have been involved in some sort of sponsorship deal – I’d say this is a great thing. It’s not over the top, makes perfect sense in the show’s universe, so what is there to complain about. So long as Bladezz doesn’t quit Cheesy Beard’s (with their gARRRRlic fries) for a major chain restaurant, the show hasn’t quite sold out.
- WoW question: is Found Item Stew a thing in the context of the game? Or is it just really, really weird?