Truth be told, what your average online video fan knows about Mormonism is probably about enough to fill an episode of South Park. So a web series produced at Brigham Young University, based on themes from the Book of Mormon, and aimed at Latter-Day Saint audiences doesn’t exactly sound ripe with mainstream crossover potential. But The Book of Jer3miah, a tight, suspenseful little series wrapping up its first season today, may just have what it takes to get web audiences to utter the words “Mormon conspiracy thriller” without a touch of irony.
The series follows college student Jeremiah Whitney as he is charged with the protection of a mysterious box. Jeremiah has long had “feelings” — messages from, well, God (here is where secular audiences have to take a leap of faith, no pun intended). Turns out Jeremiah is a very special guy indeed, and that box is about to cause him a world of trouble. Soon, very bad things start happening to people close to him, he finds out his parents have lied to him his whole life, and some pretty violent dudes start chasing him, all dressed in black and wearing fancy Bluetooths and such. Throw in an aggressively sexy female reporter (baddie alert!), a sweetly naive love interest, and those pesky voices, and Jeremiah has a lot on his plate.
What makes Jer3miah worth watching even for those of us who have to stop frequently and Google stuff like “Iron Rod” is not just that it’s a well-crafted mystery, but that it’s a religious thriller that doesn’t take itself seriously all the time. There’s quick dialogue, funny supporting characters…this is a show written for people of strong, observant faith, yes, but it’s also written for college kids who want a fun, engaging piece of new media. And it succeeds on both levels. In the comments sections for the episodes, you’ll see intelligent debates aover how well or poorly the show is addressing Mormon parables, and comments like, “It’s like Lost and Cloverfield had a baby, and the Jer3miah people raised it.”
Created as a class project at BYU by Theater and Media Arts associate professor Jeff Parkin, and produced by Parkin, Jared Cardon and more than 30 students, the series is highly interactive. Not only can fans uncover puzzles and conspiracy information on sites The Davenport Papers (hub of the companion ARG) and Zooby News, but physical clues have been hidden around the BYU campus for students to discover and share. A discussion on the Davenport Papers forum will lead to the discovery that a clue refers to a particular classroom, which leads to various students snooping around and reporting back until one finds a hidden flash drive and uploads its contents for everyone to see. It’s a pretty big leap forward in terms of university-sponsored transmedia content, and yet, the online collaboration between fans is so fervent that you don’t have to be anywhere near the campus to be part of the action.
Sure, there are a few points harder for non-Mormons to swallow. You probably have to come from a background with a long tradition of people having legitimate transcendent experiences and recording them for future generations for instructions like, “This is highly secret. You must tell no one. But it’s important, so record it with that video camera,” to really make sense. And of course, for the non-religious among us, hearing voices is usually considered a bad sign, not an indication you’re on the right path. And by the time we get about halfway through the series, those voices have some pretty disturbing stuff to say. On the other hand, you know what all this leads to? Real drama, with real stakes and real consequences. A character troubled by the demands of the mission that’s been tasked to him. And some very, very difficult choices.
Hey, when celestial smackdowns are a plot possibility, things can get pretty hardcore. And that makes for good web drama.
Will the season finale reveal what is in that @$&* box? What happened to Jeremiah and Claire, his sweet love interest, after their recent vanishing act? And why does everyone on this show have a cell phone, but only evil people have Bluetooth?
Mormon or not, stay tuned.