CJP’s The Temp Life is one of those on-the-nose sponsored series, being as it is a comedy about the abused life of the temporary employee, sponsored by actual staffing company Spherion. But as an early adopter in that world, the series has proven that you don’t need to drop the sponsor into every scene in order to spread the message. And its fourth season, which launched this week, ups the game in terms of guest stars, while also representing a big narrative evolution for the web series world in general.
For if you’re a true TV nerd, you might be aware of something known as the Tommy Westphall Universe Hypothesis, a theory which posits that the vast majority of network television from the past several decades takes place within the same universe, thanks to the multitude of crossovers and spinoffs that have occurred over the years. According to the Westphall hypothesis, Monica and Rachel from Friends live in the same fictional New York as the detectives on Law and Order and the Bunkers from All in the Family — plus, in their future lies the worlds of both Star Trek and Firefly. It’s a theory filled with contradictions and faults, but presents a fresh way of considering the various seemingly disconnected shows we all watch.
Despite the metatextual nature of new media, where stories are often being told in multiple formats across different platforms, no Westphall analog had really emerged in the web series world yet — until now. Two major crossovers come up in the fourth season of The Temp Life: First, struggling temp agency Commodity has been pushed out of its office space by a company owned by the hedge fund owned by the central company of Hedge Fund. (Fund creator/star Chris Murray makes a cameo in the first episode.) In addition, the central characters from the series Groupthink will guest-star in an upcoming episode. The result is an expanded universe that not only creates the sense that these shows, all created and produced independently, do not exist in a vacuum, but provides them an opportunity for greater exposure.
In the years since the show’s pilot episode, all the way back in 2006, Temp Life has enjoyed a significant uptick in production quality. (Sorry, fans of cheesy editing transitions, but there are no clock wipes in the new season so far.)
However, while the cast is clearly having fun, there’s an overall awkwardness to the first two episodes, and the addition of Break a Leg creator Yuri Baranovsky as co-writer and Hayley Project creators Andrew Park and Jato Smith as directors hasn’t done much to up the comedy quotient. The principle problem comes down to concept, as the first two episodes focus mostly on former Commodity Staffing CEO Nick “Trouble” Chiapetta (Wilson Cleveland, who also co-writes the fourth season) coming back from an eight-month vacation to discover that he himself is now relegated to the temping world, which is populated by no shortage of wacky characters. But because Trouble himself is as strange and obnoxious as the people with whom he’s interacting, there’s no likable protagonist to get behind. The only exception to this is when Trouble confronts former employees Mark (Mark Jude) and Laura (Laura Kowalcyk) over their so-called betrayal, and that scene from the first episode is by far the strongest, simply because there is such a thing as too much wackiness.
However, that one scene is hardly the sole spot of funny here, as Temp Life found a fresh way to include some web-famous guest stars in this universe. Each set of episodes released on a weekly basis includes a “video resume” from figures like Taryn Southern, Sandeep Parikh, and Gold creator David Nett. Each creator was given free reign to create a character and write/direct his or her individual short, and Southern’s installment, released this week, is just the right mix of bizarre but human — her character, Oklahoman Nancy, is clueless, sweet and eccentric, and the piece is well-paced and edited, with some great bits of well-timed comedy. A brief sample of Parikh’s contribution was made available for review, and while the effort put into the piece isn’t quite on the level of Southern’s, it still showcases his talent for putting a fresh spin on stereotypes — in this case, the USC frat boy.
Despite some missteps, Temp Life still represents a strong combination of elements, and personally I look forward to a Tommy Westphall-esque chart being possible for the web series world. (Step 1: get Southern to reprise Nancy on another series. Step 2: Repeat.)