I’m fascinated when someone tries to make YouTube work for anything other than racist jokes aimed at children, really obnoxious stoners who vomit up nonsense while playing video-games, or amazing rap cats. All of those videos, except for “Rap Cat,” killed my brain.
There have been some attempts at using YouTube as a vehicle for a serial. A couple of years ago, the uploaded sitcom, “We Need Girlfriends,” debuted to, at the time, stellar views and got picked up by CBS for a deal that slowly disappeared from memory and only the show’s Seth Kirschner has found a career on TV. The show was interesting if nothing special. It featured lots of cutaways, something that the very similar “How I Met Your Mother” has trafficked in for years and was able to use course language and some obscure references. Mostly, it was a thoughtful, heartfelt ode to sitcoms and is to this day, one of my favorite web series.
There have been a few other attempts to make serial television independently, set far away from companies. CollegeHumor and Machinima both attempted the feat, neither succesfully, and last year’s appearance of the Mortal Kombat series was a noticeably high profile attempt to go for serialization online. Now, WIGS, a production house that has been making high budget shorts on YouTube, one of which starring formerly TV famous Jennifer Garner, has received a huge push advertising push from the video sharing web site for their new series, “Jan.”
So what’s “Jan,” you say? Well, according to their unfathomably lame and self aggrandizing press release, the show tells the story of the eponymous character whom lands “a dream first job but a series of blunders makes it feel more like a nightmare.” Sound beige enough for you? Well, you’re goddamn fucking right it is!
In an attempt to spice things up, Jan works for a bitchy photographer played by Virginia Madsen of the unbelievably good “Candyman,” and is working on a series of photos of women taken immediately after they’ve had sex because that sounds…vaguely pretentious. Regardless, we’re supposed to be getting a “Devil Wears Prada” vibe and it never quite lands because things are so sitcom-y. Oh no, Jan stepped on her glasses! Oh no, helpful sexy British man! Oh no, Jan took the pictures instead of her boss! Whatever shall she do!?!
What makes “Jan” so hard to get into is how much potential it has. Jon Avnett of “Fried Green Tomatoes” and Rodrigo Garcia, who directed the fantastic “Carnivale” pilot and last year’s underwhelming but ambitious “Albert Nobbs” are behind the camera but they direct with all the ambition of someone on their first film. Shots are dark, sets are empty, dialogue is bereft of character or tension and I struggle to connect with any of the characters. This isn’t the work of a competent studio trying to produce high end products. This is someone showing off their first movie to some poor saps at a film festival.
I hate shitting on people who are genuinely trying to break barriers and come up with something new for lots of people and WIGS is genuinely trying to connect with an audience. The comment sections for “Jan” are overflowing with the company’s responses to comments, both positive and negative and it is wonderful to see someone engaging with the community like that. I just wish they were talking about something, y’know, better.