As a casual user of the location-based social networking service Foursquare, I will admit to executing the occasional misdemeanor — checking in at a local sandwich shop I visited earlier in the day from the comfort of my own couch, seeing what might happen if I repeatedly check in over the course of a night at a bar and so on. The reason for these sorts of minor cheats is that no one, as far as I can tell, really cares, especially since the usefulness of Foursquare (at least in Los Angeles) is mostly limited to bragging to your friends about all the sushi you’ve been eating.
But Elevator creator Woody Tondorf‘s first post-Break project Foursquare Cops elevates minor online infractions to crimes worthy of Judge Dredd-style justice. I invoke Judge Dredd because like Sylvester Stallone’s vigilante future cop, these cops on a mission do not hesitate to shoot transgressors who might violate the Foursquare spirit.
Shot documentary-style, Det. John Harty (Nate Hinchey) and OFC. Frank Ashton (Kyle Paice) roam the streets searching for those who dare to abuse their check-ins and use unfair means to oust the rightful mayors of various locations. If none of that makes sense to you, then you are clearly not part of the show’s target audience — there are no explanations provided for those unfamiliar with the complexities of Foursquare’s location-based interactivity.
However, if you’re no n00b, then you’ll probably enjoy the show’s many clever gags, some of which are built around obscure Internet in-jokes and some of which are just funny. “Policing the streets is just our day job,” Harty shares in episode 1. “We’re also in an a capella group. It’s called Copappella.” And then he starts to sing.
Foursquare Cops is technically branded entertainment, as it was produced by Hubspot, a software product that assists businesses with social marketing. But the brand is never invoked during the actual show, its mention limited to a post-show title card — the perfect sort of branded entertainment from a consumer standpoint, though how the show’s message translates to pushing Hubspot’s services to businesses isn’t entirely clear at this juncture.
The production isn’t flawless — while the cinematography does a nice job of capturing the cinema verite nature of Cops (the clear inspiration), the fight choreography and gun-play stand out as so painfully fake that they often took me entirely out of the story. But the acting is solid and the tone consistently funny.
If there’s an interesting twist to Foursquare Cops, it’s this: Those policing these social media transgressors are just as addicted to social media. As a result Foursquare Cops creates an interesting portrait of the world as it would be if products like Foursquare ruled our desires completely. And frankly, I find it a little scary.
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