On Monday morning, the Internet’s answer to Felicia Day’s lyrical question, Do You Wanna Date My Avatar?, was very much yes. The Jed Whedon-directed music video for The Guild‘s upcoming season three became a trendy topic on Twitter, climbed the iTunes music video charts, and remained just as clever and well-produced as it was when it premiered at Comic-Con a month ago.
However, I’m bracing myself for the copycats — because as fun as a music video is, it’s important to note how, exactly, one should include them into a series’ regular content. After all, music videos are rarely a vehicle for storytelling, and as fun as they can be, it’s hard to make them work within the episodes themselves.
Take, for example, the Entourage spoof Underage, created by comedian Patrick O’Sullivan. The series has a lot of charm, thanks to its barely legal cast, with Lily Holleman as Poodle (the show’s Turtle analog) being a notable standout. But the adventures of teen star Kylie Lohanson and her hangers-on also suffered from poor sound design and some offensive character choices…and then, in the second episode, one awkward gag riffing on a modification of an Entourage catchphrase — “shrug it out” — was drawn out into a music video/dance montage that ate up 30 seconds of the three-minute episode and was nearly unbearable to watch. Lesson 1: If you’re going to devote that kind of screen time to a music video, make sure it’s structured around more than one joke.
Also, the reality show satire Whorified: The Search for America’s Next Top Whore found a great deal of gross-out gags by getting down and dirty in its depiction of the world’s oldest profession. And over 10 episodes, the show’s no-holds-barred humor was paired well with “behind-the-scenes” footage of the reality show’s producers, grappling with the sad and demeaning monster they’d created.
In episode 10, the producers meet with the show’s crew to discuss rising concerns about how awful the show has become, the crew asking questions like, “When [the contestants] have to leave the show, do we really have to throw them out in the front yard like they’re trash?” It’s good stuff, really allowing the show’s critique of the reality show genre to shine through.
But then the producers respond by…rapping, which then segues into a full-on two-minute music video about how “reality TV made me do it.” Sure, the message is in step, but it’s wildly out of sync with the rest of the show’s format, and isn’t terribly funny or original in content. Most importantly, when the video is revealed to be the fantasy of producer A.J. (creator Ann Marie Lindbloom), she simply slinks off, embarrassed, and they cut to credits. This is the season — possibly the series — finale, and as a result a deeply unsatisfying one. Lesson 2: A music video does not a denouement make.
The biggest thing to consider is HOW you distribute said music video. Dropping it into the middle of an episode without making sure it works with the rest of the series means that what might have been fun auxiliary content instead becomes dead weight for the narrative flow. (Hayden Black’s The Cabonauts might be the exception to the rule, but as the series doesn’t premiere until October, we can’t be sure about that yet.) That’s what makes Do You Wanna Date My Avatar so brilliant for The Guild — producers Day and Kim Evey recognize that this isn’t show content, but promotional content, and by packaging it as such, they’ve allowed Avatar to make quite the splash. I don’t mean to disparage the idea of music videos for web series — after all, the final lesson is think before you rap.