Even the most rudimentary Creative Writing 101 class at the Learning Annex will instruct you that stories that end with “and it was all in his mind” are usually very, very bad. But as the new web series Coma, Period proves, a story that begins that way can be highly entertaining.
Set entirely in the white-walled subconscious of comatose accident victim Dan Humford (Rob Delaney), Coma, Period creates a surreal comic fantasy world populated by magicians, naked women, mysterious doors with bad things behind them, and candy bars. Humford wanders around his own mind, alternately bored, terrified and perplexed by what he finds there. The result, fueled by Delaney’s pitch-perfect and exuberant performance, is a satisfying blend of dark humor and goofy whimsy — a fusion often attempted in web video that’s rarely done as well as it is here.
In fact, few things in web video are done as well as they are in Coma, Period. Produced by Lead Balloon, the in-house original content arm of freelance hybrid media studio Psychic Bunny, and shot entirely on greenscreen with a Panasonic HVX200, the series shows the creative savviness and tech pedigree of writer-director Rick Castaneda and Psychic Bunny partners Doug Spice, Asa Shumskas-Tait and Jesse Vigil at every turn. And that’s really what’s noteworthy: It’s not just that Delaney’s performance is so great, or the production values are so professional or that the comedy works so well. All of those things are true, but a lot of series have good actors or funny writers or good use of greenscreen — “or” being the operative word. What Coma, Period does, delightfully, is bring “and” into the equation. It has the technical proficiency to make you believe you’re really watching a guy in an endless white room, writing that goes beyond the obvious jokes inherent to the premise, and a lead actor who’s so great at both voiceover and physical acting that you may be a couple of episodes in before you realize you haven’t seen him speak on camera.
And when you watch enough shows shot with greenscreen and post-production effects, you really appreciate it when, say, an actor’s sight line actually looks like it’s going directly to the big, tall, imaginary thing they put in after the shoot was completed.
Each episode of Coma, Period — which runs between two and four minutes long and is released every Wednesday on Strike.tv — contains two segments: an introductory teaser followed by a main story. Castaneda conceived the series as a “comic strip of a show,” and the aesthetic, with punchy visuals and a three-beat story structure reminscent of old-school comic panels, makes for a highly digestible web video format. But it’s Delaney — previously spotted online in Warner Bros. Responds to Christian Bale — who really makes the series sing with his 100 percent commitment to every emotion, dance number and alter ego that comes his way.
The team at Lead Balloon has already scored some great advance buzz, with articles at Tubefilter and Markee covering both the creative and the technical. You can even follow Dan Humford on Twitter, although there’s no guarantee as to how frequently he can tweet from within the recesses of his own mind. (Dan’s mind, by the way, is centered at Ringleader Studios.) And since the team at Lead Balloon looks shockingly like the team at Psychic Bunny, the end goal is to have the creative freedom of an independent studio while still showing off the skills and resources that Psychic Bunny can provide for hire. Which, given the quality of Coma, Period, seems like it’s going to work out just fine.
It’s as if new-media-savvy web creators who know how to produce technical quality on a shoestring and web creators with actual creative talent got together and had babies, and those babies made a web series.
In fact, it’s so good we’re almost afraid we’re going to wake up and find out we dreamed the whole thing. Uh-oh.