Over the last decade, the private lives of 18-to-19-year-olds have been a popular subject for documentary crews — mainly because, thanks to The Real World, it’s easy to get kids that age to admit nearly anything on camera. And it’s a perfect template for a comedy about the assorted characters forced to spend their freshman year sharing the same dorm.
When you’ve found success with a given format, there’s little reason to change things up, and Dorm Life, produced by Attention Span Media, shows no inclination to raise the stakes, instead sticking with the formula that paid off so well in the first season. The most popular web series on Hulu (seriously, it beat Dr. Horrible) maintains its status quo: The drunk guys are still drunk, the sadistic RA is still sadistic, the hot girls remain immune to the Freshman 15. But each character remains committed to getting the boy/girl of their dreams, continuing the same hilarious comedy of errors from before.
Watching the five episodes available for review (the second season premieres tomorrow exclusively on MySpace before launching web-wide next Monday) reveals solid production values, clever gags, and a refreshing self-awareness. The show’s greatest drawback is that its well-honed cast has a lot of chemistry but aren’t exactly believable as kids below the drinking age. But Dorm Life fans don’t seem particularly bothered, in large part thanks to the cast and producers’ relentless efforts to engage with their audience during the early days of the show.
“Initially, it was a friends and family outreach on Facebook,” Attention Span Media president Josh McHugh said via chat, “asking pals to go check it out. Once there was a little momentum, we looked at who the most active viewers were, then we really focused on those superfans — answering any questions or comments they had, sending them schwag. With that encouragement, they turned around and really blasted it through their own social networks. It was a gradual process, but the nice result was that the number of views per month never dropped off dramatically, because new people kept finding out about it.” Dorm Life is a refreshingly home-grown success story, especially with the announcement that the second season has received sponsorship from Carl’s Jr. — some product placement will be integrated in later episodes.
Something to look forward to is the second episode of Season 2, The Screening, in which the “documentary” — i.e. the first season of Dorm Life — is screened for the students. It’s the show at its most meta, and watching the characters be confronted with their most embarrassing moments from the past season actually serves as a great re-introduction to the characters and their lives, to the point that I almost wish it were the first episode, not the second.
But even without these post-modern touches, Dorm Life would still stand out as one of the web’s most clever and accomplished web series. I would never want to go back to living with my freshman year roommates, but it’s great to get a laugh out of remembering why.