Let’s say that you’re an Arrested Development fan, one who owns all three seasons of the classic Fox comedy on DVD and responds to requests for loans by saying “There’s money in the banana stand.” And let’s say I say to you, “Hey, did you hear that Jason Bateman and Will Arnett are teaming up to create web original content starring the two of them and utilizing their ‘well-known comedic tone’?” I imagine you’d be pretty excited, right?
Sorry, guys, but get de-excited, now. Sure, Bateman and Arnett’s new web venture, the perhaps ill-named DumbDumb, sounds like it should be promising. Give two talented dudes some cash from a brand partner, let them make comedy for the internets on their own terms — what could go wrong? Here’s the answer: The comedy could fail to be funny.
Here’s the problem — there’s no denying how hilarious both Bateman and Arnett are. But The Prom Date, first in a planned “web content series” (per the YouTube description) from Orbitz Gum, did not make me laugh once, and frankly that ires me. Will Arnett is wearing a fake mustache, guys. And I LOVE fake mustaches.
The major problem here is that the balancing act between commercial and comedy is way off. The examples of branded content that have worked for me in the past tend to treat the product or service being advertised not as props, but scenery. One of the best examples is Easy to Assemble: Illeana Douglas works at an IKEA, but that’s just the location, not a driving force of the narrative — with the exception of some Swedish touches the show could work anywhere, even as unbranded content.
With DumbDumb’s first entry into the field, however, the twist on a simple domestic situation — overprotective parents encounter their daughter’s unconventional prom date — comes directly after characters chew Orbitz gum. Making the brand an active participant in the narrative is what makes Prom Date feel like a five minute commercial, and not a funny comedy video. Everyone involved is clearly trying hard. But the tone falls flat as a result.
The official DumbDumb site claims that “will utilize web production, development, and marketing expertise from CollegeHumor.com,” which in the case of Prom Date and the two subsequent Orbitz comedy shorts yet to come means that they were produced by College Humor’s Ben Joseph.
Joseph and the guys at College Humor are web-savvy sorts, which makes me think that they aren’t behind the decision not to link the DumbDumb official site with the YouTube account also hosting these videos (the videos on DumbDumb.com are not embeddable, of course). They’re also often hilarious, which is part of why Prom Date disappointed me so.
It’s understandable, I suppose: The back and forth between brand and creator is a tricky one for projects like these. But it’s really a shame that somewhere in this process, the funny got lost.
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