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Adam J. Robinson’s web series Father Wrote the Play by Leeland Greenmess consists, so far, of a single episode and two promos. Both the promos and the pilot episode mix found public domain footage with slideshow-style “animation” — the illusion of motion is created not through multiple drawn frames, but through seemingly Final Cut Pro-generated pans and zooms across the director’s childish drawings, all done in black-and-white pen and ink. It’s sort of a comedy, but there aren’t really any overt jokes, just comic juxtapositions. Well, OK — there is a poop joke.
Two promos and a single episode is, admittedly, not much to go on, but so far it’s enough for me to fall a little bit in love. Father Wrote the Play is magical and bizarre, and though Robinson doesn’t pull off everything he attempts (see: the poop joke), he does manage to pull it all together.
Apparently the story will eventually involve titular protagonist Leeland Greenmess’ attempt to make good on his father’s dying wish that the son produce the father’s play, The Haunted Conifer. The first episode just gets to the presentation of that dying wish, after devoting the first half of its running time to the atmospheric depiction of life around the Greenmess manse. An unseen cat screeches over ominous music as we get a wide glimpse the kitchen. Meat hooks seem to hang in every room; in the living room, they hover above a marble column and a TV playing a bizarre Pathescope short on mental patients.
We finally meet the Greenmess men about three minutes in. Both are bald and of indiscriminate age; both wear beards that look something like Pac Man ghosts stapled to their faces. Leeland’s dad, on his death bed, tells his son that he’ll find the unproduced play in the family vault. Leeland protests that he’s ill-equipped to direct theater, but his father uses his last breath to offer words of encouragement: “Ittttt’sssss eaaaaaassssssy.” It’s somehow both creepy and charming.
In a year of writing this column, Father Wrote the Play may be the most intriguing web series pilot I’ve seen, simply because I don’t have a clue where this is train is going. Well, there are a few clues: One of the two promos currently up on Vimeo suggests that future episodes will feature a character named Malt 50, who will help Leeland produce the play; the other promo consists of a giant diamond, an owl, and a moody, borderline-spooky organ ballad.
But scant narrative pointers aside, Father Wrote the Play looks and feels like no web video I’ve ever seen. In a world in which hit-hungry content creators seem to be relying on boilerplate creative tropes at a disturbing rate, this show doesn’t fit into any pre-existing video genre, it doesn’t appear to have a defined audience niche in mind and it seems to want to confound any and all pre-conceived expectations. It could become brilliant or it could all go very, very wrong, but that risk alone is thrilling. More like this, please.