Here’s the secret to creating high-quality, low-budget science fiction: The simpler the set-up, the more money and effort you can put towards executing it well. Zerks Log is a perfect example.
Zerks Log riffs on the time-honored narrative device, established by Star Trek over 40 years ago, that all starship captains keep video logs of their missions. But unlike Kirk or Picard, Captain Zerks Ganymedewski isn’t wrestling with complicated issues of morality and fighting aliens; instead, he frets about his relationship with his second-in-command, wonders if he has a secret admirer, and tells jokes.
Thus, the show’s requirements are pretty much just one set, one actor, and a metric ton of visual effects and creature design to make the alien ship and its captain come alive. And the creators at Connecticut-based StoryForge Labs definitely deliver. The green-screened backdrop, which shows the bridge of the ship as well as the stars sweeping by outside, is lush and beautifully rendered, and Zerks himself is a painstakingly hand-sculpted puppet head, complete with moving eyes and eyelids. Behind the mask, lead actor Ben Alpi does a great job of drawing out the petty insecurities and naivete of Zerks, and the writing of his logs is full of details that help the entire ship feel fully realized.
The only problem I have with Zerks Log, honestly, is that the core element of its premise gets totally buried.
Clicking on the first episode, I thought the show was simply a clever take on the vlog format, with aliens. (The Blip.tv show page describes it as “a sci-fi comedy web series about the amusing ups and downs of hapless alien starship captain Zerks Ganymedewski.”
But it’s only when you click on the About page on the show’s main site that you discover a darker core to the concept. The recordings that make up Zerks Log are all that’s left of the captain and his ship, which disappeared several years ago. This Blair Witch Project-esque approach gives the narrative an added depth, casting even the most trivial of Zerks’ observations in a new, more tragic light. Because the real power of Zerks Log is that despite how fundamentally silly and misguided Zerks might be, you actually grow to really like him — thus keeping you watching, uncertain as to what will happen to him, but curious to find out.