What is a television series? Is it a sequence of stories chained together by character or plot, piped through a box, surface or screen capable of containing the working components? Nothing more than a visualized radio program, a 21st century pixilated Amos and Andy projected onto a screen rather than hummed through your radio's grill cloth?
Serialized home entertainment has been monopolized by the television set since the radio began seceding from the throne in the 1930s. Since then, no other living-room medium has been able to compete with the production values, scope and general talent behind shows like Lost, 24, The Walking Dead, Mad Men and a whole host of other contemporaries. Bryan Singer is going to change that come August; not just your perception of what a TV show can do, but where the TV industry, as a whole, can go.
H+, a made-for-web series premiering on YouTube August 8th, paints us a dystopian future in which an implant that connects our brains to the internet 24/7 — effectively making us walking Wi-Fi hotspots — shorts (or does it?) and kills a third of the world’s population; the resulting chaotic mess the fodder for our entertainment needs. The series is being produced by Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, X-Men) and directed by Stewart Hendler (Sorority Row), who you probably haven’t heard of but if you’ve watched the trailer above, you’d be a fool not to have confidence in his aesthetic sensibilities (i.e. the trailer rocked).
You may be saying to yourself right now: “Well, Dariel, this kind of dystopian thing has been done before. What makes this so special? Why are people finally going to see the web-series as a viable option for their serialized needs?” There are several answers, I’ll start with this: I Believe in Singer.
I believe in the man’s abilities and convictions with which he enforces them. The Usual Suspects wasn’t the greatest script of all-time in my opinion (one that I’m sure to catch flak on). The film was, though, a polished nod to noir that slid its way into our minds and DVD stacks through its use of a controlled coolness, one that can be attributed to Singer. He’s the one who made the X-Men series fantastic fun before Brett Ratner’s greasy, sausage fingers smudged the mutant celluloid so bad with X3: The Last Stand, that Marvel Studios decided to reboot the entire X-Men universe with the Origins series. Which brings me to my penultimate point on my belief in Singer. He’s seeking something with this project that he’s been seeking ever since his Superman Returns ship sunk like the Titanic. He’s seeking vindication.
When the second X-Men film, X2, arrived to astounding critical and commercial success, Bryan Singer was on top of the world. As producer and director of the first two films of the franchise—films hailed at the time as the best comic-book conversions to date—Singer was poised to close out a fantastic mutant trilogy that paid respect to and even enhanced the franchise into another stratosphere. Then something happened. He decided to hand X3 to Ratner so he could helm the new Superman reboot. X3 was a shameful entrant not only to the franchise but to the annals of visual art and history, and, perhaps over time maybe even a low-point in our cultural development. Superman Returns was nowhere near as bad as that, but it was just as forgettable. It was a disastrous trade. Two franchises destroyed: one as it lined up for a grand slam, and another before it even got out the batter’s box.
Enter H+. A web series with Singer’s name spattered all over the trailer and advertisements. It’s his chance to not only help create a great product, but usher in a new medium and destination location for premium entertainment … and he’s sparing no expense.
H+ is an ambitious project. Episodes premiere August 8th on its YouTube channel and continue every Wednesday after that — presumably compiling a 13-episode season — while the Facebook page will progressively immerse you in the series’ world until the premiere. Singer and the show creators — Hendler, John Cabrera and Cosimo De Tommaso — have also been hinting in interviews that the show will contain interactive elements that will engage viewers in ways no other serialized program has attempted before. The show will come in web-format: 3- to 6-minutes clips that each divulges another piece of this technology-plagued vision. And, one look at the trailer will tell you that Singer has brought along Hollywood’s highest levels of production to the project.
But even further than Singer’s dedication and talent is the impact a series of this nature will have on the trajectory of serialized programs as TV and web continue to integrate themselves. We can already hook our television screen to YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, Crackle and a whole host of other online video streaming services — all of which are throwing their hats into the original-programming arena — that come easily integrated in home entertainment consoles like PS3, Xbox 360 and eventually every standard TV set.
There will come a day, sooner than later, when YouTube and Hulu will curate original programming that will compete with the likes of HBO or AMC, but it won’t be an easy path. This web series thing is just getting off the ground and there are lots of foggy properties out there. Netflix has David’s Fincher’s House of Cards series that’s been plagued by rumors of production issues. There’s also horror meister Eli Roth’s (Hostel) Hemlock Grove, Jenji Kohan’s (Weeds) Orange is the New Black, and the final season of recently resurrected Fox series Arrested Development, on Netflix’s upcoming slate. Hulu, too, has its share of originals, with Kevin Smith’s new cinema talk-show, Spoilers, having the most promise for any kind of sustained viewership on its service. Amazon Prime is the other heavyweight in the original content web-series war, with its newly announced slate of four shows, none of which are even worth mentioning when speaking of the ability to validate this new internet serialized venture.
It’s only H+. It’s the one. It’s got the right talent, the right idea and the right kind of production values that will enable viewers to still ingest their media in those same, small web-dosages they’re used to, but — with the help of Dr. Singer — that prescription’s strength will be heightened to the likes no other immersive, dramatic experience has afforded general audiences, until now.
The web-series needs a champion. One that can break down and meld the barriers of TV and web, thus in the process helping eradicate the cable/network model whose expiration date has already been prophesied. Singer's H+ is that champion, and come August 8th the world of serialized entertainment will never be the same.