Old Stories, New Tellers: How Modern Web Series Are Changing Classics

It all started with a girl looking into camera with a wry smile, and beginning, ‘My name is Lizzie Bennet’…

And so, a now iconic YouTube series was born, and the beginning of an entire new sub-genre of online content was created, slotting neatly beside the Netflix and Amazon-only productions of shows. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries was the first major production of the appropriately-monikered Pemberley Digital studios, a production company whose niche of taking classic works of literature and transforming them into readily-accessible, addictive chunks of storytelling for online viewers to binge on and enjoy, has become a revolution in the way that we view modern media vehicles such as YouTube and classics such as Pride & Prejudice, Emma, and even Frankenstein.

For long, YouTube has been seen as a place where people complain and do stupid Internet stunts. Recently, however, YouTube has moved beyond that, using the potential of an accessible, free platform, to rise on the global stage as a purveyor of quality entertainment. Rising YouTube stars such as Zoella, Sprinkle of Glitter, and PewDiePie have become superstars, dominating global stages and conferences. It only stands to reason that the platform would become a place for new TV shows to spread their creative wings.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, based off Jane Austen’s flawless classic, Pride & Prejudice, follows the journey of Lizzie Bennet, here transformed from a young woman in 19th century England into a spunky 24-year-old American grad student, struggling to find her place in the world. The adaptation provides more than a mere glossy shine; racial and sexual diversity are key here, with key roles played by actors of colour, and a new character Fitz Williams is black and gay and a welcome addition.

From the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, other adaptations have sprung forth, in notable new directions. Spin-off web-series Welcome to Sanditon follows the original adventures of Gigi Darcy (Georgiana Darcy, played by Allison Paige) as she heads to small-town America to test forth a revolutionary search engine and social media messenger tool, and finds much more. Sanditon is a step forward for the group, making it web-series fanfic in a way purer to original fiction, transforming a secondary character into someone with her own vehicle and her own narrative away from the original. In this way it echoes Death Comes to Pemberley which utilises characters and settings in Pride and Prejudice.

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“Bee and PuppyCat” Is Wacky, Wonderful

Bee, a reluctant hero, becomes entangled in the adventures of a puppy (…or is he a cat?) as they travel between reality and the void of Fishbowl Space.

Created by Natasha Allegri, character designer and storyboard artist for “Adventure Time.” We can neither confirm nor deny the autobiographical nature of Bee & PuppyCat.

Yes, I am telling you to watch this nonsense.

While I have gone on record in the past about my ambivalence toward Adventure Time, and I expected this to be much of the same (since it’s from some of  the same people), I was pleasantly surprised to find an engaging protagonist, an incredibly strange hero, and an extremely wacky world. I especially enjoyed the snark and down-to-earth attitude of main character Bee.

Okay, maybe this isn’t nonsense after all. It’s still weird as hell, though.

Check out the Cartoon Hangover Youtube channel if you’d like to see more of this show, and some other stuff (that I have not yet vetted for your convenience.) 

“Research.” 1×01-02 Review

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Hired by a certifiable ‘genius,’ Dave must navigate a maze of eccentric colleagues to run a successful or even functional research and testing facility.

A few years back, there was a show on TV called Better Off Ted, and it was awesome. Naturally, it was cancelled after two short seasons and disappeared into the Netflix netherworld – never to be seen or heard from again (unless you have a a Netflix subscription).

It was about a guy who worked for this big, scary corporation that did all sorts of nefarious things to/for people for money; it was basically a parody of corporate America.

I bring this show up today, because I’ve recently seen a web series that instantly brought dearly departed Ted to mind within the first few minutes of watching it. Both derive humor from experimentation on innocent people, and both are set in a heightened sort of reality that could only exist in comedies and surreal horror films.

It’s called Research. (no, that period is not a typo, even if my computer wants it to be) and the show takes place at a research and testing facility owned by Grant Geffin (Kahle McCann)  – a less than gifted man who has inexplicably won a MacArthur Genius Grant, despite being the type to spew racist and sexist comments left and right at the workplace.

At the facility, researchers run all sorts of tests on all sorts of people in the name of “Everything you ever wanted to know about anything ever.”

Dave (Gabriel Diani), the obligatory straight-man is hired by Grant, and is basically responsible for keeping the not-so ideal workplace in order. Boy, does he have a lot of contend with.

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You’ve got a Pierce-Hawthorne-meets-Doc-Brown* mad scientist type (Barry Bostwick, probably the most recognizable face in the series) who seems just as much at home screwing with test subjects’ heads as he does with his co-workers’, a kleptomaniac secretary named Kate (Kelly Huddleston), a recurring test subject who is way too eager and willing to give up little bits of himself (his time, his blood, his life…), and a mysterious vagrant (Sean Naughton) who gets made over into a clean-cut, mute, lab assistant.

Outside of the two leading characters and the supporting players there’s also researcher Taylor (Autumn Hurlbert), who gets flustered and flirty every time she sees Dave and has an acrimonious relationship with Kate.

All the characters show a lot of potential in the first two episodes. Each one definitely falls into a standard archetype, but it looks like there are enough unique quirks to each person to make it work.

Based on the character types used, it comes of no surprise that the humor is – at times – cringe-inducing. In the first two episodes alone, you’ve got awkward situations practically throwing themselves at the camera – usually connected to insensitive boss Grant.

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To give you an example of what I’m talking about, let’s take apart a scene where Dave is interviewing prospects for a new secretary. Grant comes in and asks for someone female and sexy. We pan over to Dave’s office doorway and there’s an (let’s say… not Grant’s version of attractive) interviewee standing there, listening to the whole thing.

If that’s the kind of humor that gets you going, then this show is probably for you.

Overall, I found what I watched pretty entertaining. Most of the jokes landed, and the quirky take on what was essentially an office setting worked for me. There are an awful lot of characters for a show that is only five-to-eight minutes per episode, but I think the writers are doing a pretty good job of differentiating them so far.

So, when it comes down to it, the show made me laugh and hooked me enough to watch more. I don’t think I’ll be regretting the decision.

Rating: B+

Research. is produced by Mildly Fearsome Films. Once you’ve seen the first episode, head on over to the production team’s website. If you want, let us know what you thought of the first couple of episodes in the comments below!

*All credit for that wonderful description goes to pop culture mash-up genius Hera Syed.