Watching holiday-themed material is a great way to pretend that the holidays aren’t actually over yet — which is, in turn, a great excuse for catching up on series that I meant to review back in December.
Mental Beast, produced by Conor Holler and Cameron Reed (who also created the indie series With Friends Like These, is an independently produced web series chronicling the trials and tribulations (more the former than the latter) of a struggling Vancouver radio station. The narrative revolves primarily around Dave (Craig Anderson), who hosts a show called Mental Beast with Kevin (Holler) and has a crush on Lucy (Christine Bortolin) following a drunken hookup at the Christmas party.
It’s nothing groundbreaking, though while the writing lacks a certain spark, the tone is relatively fresh and the characters strike a nice balance between flat-out wacky and believably human. However, what makes Mental Beast stand out from standard workplace comedy fare is the combination of audio and video components to make the world of the radio station come alive. For we not only get a sense of the office politics at work, but we also come to understand the nature of the Mental Beast radio show, thanks to excerpts from the fictitious radio segments, which serve as alternating episodes of the show.
Through these, Mental Beast is able to express the point-of-view that drives Dave and Kevin’s show, while also pushing its secondary mandate: supporting the music of indie artists. Every episode features an interview with real musical artists and at least one or two original tracks, many of which have been collected into the holiday-themed Eggnog Experience music compilation, including songs from Nick Krgovich, Brasstronaut and Lightning Dust. I don’t know anything about those groups, but Pitchfork, the taste-making music blog, thinks they’re worth writing about, which is one of the best endorsements they could hope for.
While the audio episodes are true to the nature of modern radio broadcasts, listening to them isn’t necessarily essential to one’s understanding of the ongoing narrative, as Kevin and Dave stay relatively on topic throughout. In order for the show to count as a pure transmedia experience, they’d have to be slightly more essential to the ongoing narrative, at the very least offering a new perspective on the video episodes (where the true narrative can be found). However, the experiment is overall a relatively successful one, if only because it’s great to see more people challenge the idea that a web series is just video alone.