Will Asylum Escape the One-Season Trap?

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While it’s too easy to trash Hollywood for stifling artistic voices, if the web series Asylum were put through your stereotypical studio development, it probably would have emerged as a twist-filled thriller, or a gross-out horror film. However, as an independent production, the series avoids being pigeon-holed in this way, and emerges instead as a strong character-focused drama layered with mysteries — mysteries, alas, that may remain unresolved.

Created by Dan Williams and directed by Scott Brown, Asylum tells the tale of a remote mental hospital managed by Dr. Suli Urban (Sophie King), who’s now struggling for control over her patients thanks to the arrival of administrator Patrick Aubert (Dingani Beza). While episodes are ostensibly framed around specific patient cases, the focus is really on the strange doings at the hospital, especially when it comes to a mysterious symbol that’s found everywhere from file catalogs to a mural on a patient’s wall.

Two episodes were released last Friday on Blip.tv, with four more to come over the following weeks, and production values are great. The cast especially holds together well, with nary a weak link, and while some of the patients introduced over the series have their stories resolved in less-than-satisfying ways, the narrative as a whole proves extremely intriguing.

That’s why Asylum makes me nervous, thanks to a trend in the web video world that I’m growing tired of: Never knowing how a story ends.

It seems these days that too many independently produced web series launch with strong first seasons, introducing intriguing worlds and ending on dramatic cliffhangers that remain unresolved — then, due to the economics of independent web video production (which include a limited marketplace for original content and a still-rebounding economy), the producers of these shows are never able to follow-up on those stories, instead, moving on to other projects.

As one example: Last year’s Compulsions was another well-received dark drama launched just a few weeks before the holidays. But while the show was instrumental in launching creator Bernie Su’s writing career, Su says via email that “Compulsions is very much alive, but will not be coming back ‘soon’ in the web/short form medium.”

You can’t resent creators for this trend, especially when you consider what a huge gamble an independent production, even for the web, can be. (Williams put the budget for Asylum in the “tens of thousands.”) But while with Compulsions, that lack of completion wasn’t a huge issue because the show’s plot was purposefully secondary to its exploration of character and tone, Asylum‘s mysteries are so dense and, at the end of episode six, still pretty much unresolved. There’s little sense of conclusion — just more questions.

Both Williams and Brown were optimistic about the prospect of more episodes when I spoke to them after Compulsions Asylum‘s premiere last Thursday. But, having been burned so many times before, I’m going to hold off on my excitement about this show until Season 2 is announced.

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