At least two years in the making, The LXD, created by Step Up 2 The Streets director Jon M. Chu and distributed by Paramount Digital Entertainment, has finally launched on Hulu. This isn’t to say that the web hasn’t already gotten a taste of what this “legion of extraordinary dancers” is capable of, thanks to high-profile performances at the TED conference, the Academy Awards and elsewhere. But now the promise of an epic narrative told entirely through dance has been delivered and… Well, the dancing is really good.
Seriously, it’s really good.
However, if you’re just tuning in for the dancing, patience is demanded. For one thing, every episode of The LXD opens with narration from an elderly gentleman intoning about the ancient and secretive order of dancers around whom our story revolves, serving as a framing device for each stand-alone episode. He does not do this while dancing.
In addition, the 13-minute first episode, “The Tale of Trevor Drift”‘s feature film-esque pacing means that it takes seven minutes and thirty seconds before we see more than two dance steps put together. The dancing that does finally occur is great — well-shot, well-edited and beautifully executed by episode star Luis “Luigi” Rosado. But that’s quite a long time to wait for the show to deliver on its promise of dance antics.
I do feel the need to emphasize here how well-visualized the dancing is in LXD. Many times, a dance sequence (in any medium) will be so heavily edited and filled with close-ups that you can’t really appreciate the dancer’s skill. But Chu and his team emphasize long master shots, a minimum of editing, and a relatively judicious use of slow-motion, all of which puts the talent and technique of its dancers on proper display. The production values here are without question top-notch.
However, when the focus isn’t on the dance, LXD can come off as unfortunately stilted. For one thing, the dialogue varies from bland to awkward, such as one of the first lines from Episode 1: “Are you hungry, Trevor? We have some very delicious food for you.” And LXD features, according to a press release, “some of the world’s best dancers” — but that definitely does not make them the world’s best actors. While we haven’t met the full series cast yet, few of those introduced so far show signs of being even double threats in that respect; Rosado and Chadd “Madd Chadd” Smith, who stars in Episode 3, are the exceptions to that rule.
It’s also disappointing that this “legion of dancers” seems to be male-only, based on both publicity images and the make-up of the first three episodes; Episode 3 is the only one to feature any girls, and they both seem likely to be one-off characters. This seems strange, given that both Step Up 2 the Streets and Step Up 3D star female dancers — clearly Chu knows a girl or two who can pop and lock. But apparently for this project, their services were not required.
Part of LXD‘s premise is experimentation not just with dance, but with genre and style — a fact that was pretty obvious when I visited the production on set at a Western ranch.
Of the three episodes of Season 1 made available for review, though, it’s only the third that really shows signs of that experimentation. With its comic book-inspired imagery and a score heavily influenced by Danny Elfman’s Batman and Spider-man, the success it has in emulating the comic book genre makes it the most promising of the series — I’m very much looking forward to seeing what other genres they try. And while I’m not a fan of the dialogue, the complex mythology surrounding the LXD is skillfully woven into each episode, also furthering my intrigue.
The other non-dance-related aspect I really enjoyed of the first three episodes was Veronica Mars alumni Ryan Hansen making another web series appearance (he was also a major character in The WB’s Rockville USA). Hansen doesn’t have much range as an actor, but he brings some hilarious comic relief to the first episode.
It’s going to be interesting to see how this project evolves. For whenever the medium people are using to communicate is dance, and not dialogue, LXD really shines. And with the exception of the first episode, there isn’t too much dialogue.
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