It may come as surprise to you that I watch a lot of TV and movies. One of my favourite things in life is a great piece of fiction, no matter what form it comes in. In fact I watch more than I probably should, usually averaging about two or three new movies per week and more new episodes of TV than I’d care to try and count. I go everywhere in search of a great story, and one of the places I’m finding more and more great stories coming up is on the Internet. A lot of content creators are bypassing the standard methods of making movies, TV, comics, novels and other creative endeavors in favour of using the Internet as their medium of communication (as I myself am also attempting to do when not writing too many blog posts or trying to think of the perfect tweet). What’s astounding to me is the quality of the work that comes out on the Internet, although once I really stopped to think about it the quality of original Internet content should come as little surprise, because the people who make this stuff are doing it for the passion of it and little else. I decided it was time to take a break doling out my thoughts on big releases and focus on some smaller ones that may have passed most people by.
I’ve been banging on about it for a couple of years to anyone who listens but one of the best seasons of television, or more precisely serialised fiction, of the last few years was the eighth season of Red vs Blue. There’s only a small subset of a subset of people who will have heard of Red vs Blue and even fewer who will be at all familiar with it. But season eight of that series was a highpoint of drama and a natural confluence of a narrative that had been building for the seven years previously, in fact I’d say that while season eight was a monumental achievement in how excellent a story could be told by a series that was filmed inside a video game, it was also a high five to the fans, with tremendous moments of action, drama and comedy. And callbacks, so many callbacks.
Red vs Blue started 2003 as nothing more than a series of jokes filmed within the multiplayer engine of the original Halo game, although contrary to its setting, these jokes were a lot broader than simply being jokes about a video game (think jokes about bureaucracy, language barriers and what constitutes the colour red, for example). It followed the Reds and Blues as they fumbled their way through life living in a box canyon with two bases at either end of it. It’s still going strong today as 2014 will see the release of the heavily anticipated 12th season of the web series. What makes Red vs Blue a tremendous web series is not just that it’s funny, though it is absolutely downright hilarious when it wants to be, it’s that its creators realised how much love there was for the central characters of the series. They slowly turned Red vs Blue from a laugh-a-minute sitcom into a powerful character based comedy that also happened to be a great drama series. And it has some terrific action sequences to boot. It’s at its best when it manages to mix all three of these components together, the best example of which can be found at the end of season 11, when the characters are involved in an against odds battle that is in turns hilarious, badass and emotionally devastating.
The fact is that Red vs Blue has evolved to a point where it can rival traditional television. When it’s on a break between seasons I often find myself looking forward to its return more than many other shows I watch (like right now for instance), and it has endured for 11 years, longer than most other series that air on TV. To give you an idea of how long it has endured for Friends was still on the air when Red vs Blue first started. And that’s another great power of creators using the Internet as a means of delivering creative content; there is no network executive that can cancel a popular series because of ratings or rising costs, the main thing that determines whether a series lives is how popular it is. As the motto of Zombie Orpheus Entertainment (another fantastic company releasing their work exclusively on the Internet, one of their movies was a part of my latest movie of the year list) goes: No Network, No Cancellation. If you’re a fan of the type of comedy that has heart then I’d urge you to give Red vs Blue a go, whether you’re into video games or not.
Another web original that started way back in 2003 is the comic series The Order of the Stick. This is different to Red vs Blue in that it originally did begin life as a satire of its subject matter, namely D&D. The comic follows the adventures of the titular Order of the Stick and, on their first adventure, their descent into a dungeon guarded by the evil Lich Xykon (quite possibly one of the greatest “evil” characters ever to grace the panels of a comic). The entirety of the first story arc involves this quest and contains very little in the way of plot, other than the overarching storyline. It wasn’t until very late in the first arc that creator Rich Burlew began to lay the seeds for a longer running storyline, as the webcomic quickly became popular. What started out as a simple comic that made jokes about D&D soon took its first steps to becoming one of the more epic high fantasy stories of the modern age.
Like Red vs Blue, The Order of the Stick relies heavily on its deep, well rounded characters. The characters in OotS are so beloved that fans (myself included) literally went completely batshit at the apparent demise of one of the leads. The fantasy storyline that the comic has evolved is on a par with the best fantasy other mediums have to offer. It has become so epic that it involves battle scenes bigger than those found in Lord of the Rings (although when your medium is a webcomic about stick figures, budgeting such things isn’t as much of an issue). Of course OotS didn’t abandon the very thing that made it so popular, it still is a very, very funny webcomic, but it quickly evolved beyond simply existing to tell jokes. It tells a story now, of good versus evil primarily, but also it tells a story about six flawed individuals who have banded together to fight against all odds to save the world, in a story that at times can be moving as well as action packed or hilarious. I can think of no better strip to show just how fantastic OotS turned out than this one.
I simply care more about what happens to the characters of both Red vs Blue and Order of the Stick than I do about a lot of the TV, movies, books, comics or anything else that I’m currently engaged with. And it’s not just these two things either. You’ve got the aforementioned Zombie Orpheus Entertainment, responsible for one of the funniest geek movies I’ve ever seen in The Gamers: Dorkness Rising. Pure Pwnage, a comedy web series that also made the transition to traditional TV. The Penny Arcade produced Strip Search, which is hands down my favourite reality talent show of all time. The Guild, which launched Felicia Day’s acting career. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries…the list goes on. It’s not even limited to fiction, I trust Angry Joe and Boogie2988 a hell of a lot more than I trust most magazines and games journalism websites when it comes to video games, and I’m forever checking out Jeremy Jahns and Chris Stuckmann before checking out the latest movies at the cinema.
Point is, the Internet is exploding right now with original content made by people for no other reason than a passion for entertainment, or for making creative stuff, and a lot of the time these people know just as much of their craft as the people who are paid a lot of money to produce the same, or worse, on your TV screens or at the cinema. You owe it to yourself to check these people out. Who knows, you may even find your new favourite thing has been waiting for you on You Tube for years.