Earlier this month, Jeff Jarvis announced plans to invest in Black20, an online video network which NewTeeVee’s Liz Gannes profiled earlier this year. “I have been blathering a lot about exploding TV,” Jarvis wrote on his blog, BuzzMachine. “But I am putting my money and time where my mouth is.”
It’s not an illogical place for him to put his cash to work: like Jarvis, Black20’s founders are fugitives from MSM, and with both their viral one-offs and regular series, they’re proving that there’s something viable in fusing the framework of “old” media with the modes and stylings of online video.
It’s no longer *that* impressive for a video production company to reliably churn out Capitalist-critical spoof trailers and one-joke mashups, but wrangling the tropes and immediacy of viral video into a “traditional” series format is a totally different ball game. Black20 does just that with Net.Work, a weekly series following the adventures of two guys named Michael (played by Michael O’Gorman and Michael Torpley) who produce funny online videos for a company called (insert drumroll) Black20.
A workplace/behind-the-scenes comedy played at a whiplash-fast pace and spotted with industry in-jokes, it’s basically the 30 Rock of the internet. Net.Work is actually almost as funny as Tina Fey’s brainchild, and considering Black20 doesn’t have access to the services of Alec Baldwin, that’s saying something.
Net.Work is full of the properties that seem to unite so many stand-alone viral videos–unexpected juxtapositions, topicality, self-referentiality, parodies of familiar media constructions–but unlike most shows made for the web, all the usual tricks are grounded in a constant, sitcom-like environment and two solidly defined lead characters.
I started watching the show after a Twitter friend posted a link to episode 12, “Lost Connection”, in which an uptight office guy’s insistence on using AOL dial-up leads to his Lord of the Flies-style scapegoating once the office DSL goes down. After going back and watching the uptight office guy’s character develop through poop jokes and unexpected slapstick violence, I got hooked.
I’ll fight to the front of the line to criticize most network television, but there’s no substitute for the addictive properties of good, episodic storytelling. Black20 gets that, and for that alone, it deserves Jarvis’ cash.