Since I started writing this column, I’ve had a recurring nightmare: I’m hunched over my computer, trolling the Internet. My eyes ache. I’m inexplicably covered in blood. My palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy, there’s vomit on my sweater already, mom’s spaghetti, and all because I can’t dig up the perfect web series to write about. Right before I wake up, Splitsider readers always come into my bedroom, one by one, and make fun of my Tony Soprano impersonation (knowing that I think it’s really good). My feelings get really hurt.
Luckily, the nightmare never comes true (not yet anyway) and I find something worthwhile to cover. Sometimes I’ll find it because creators send me shows. Other times because friends recommend them — like this week (thanks, Edelman). I’m grateful for both pipelines when they introduce me to series like Lonny.
Created and written by Alex Anfanger and Dan Schimpf, Lonny is a scripted reality show parody that follows a vanilla-looking Brooklynite on a perverse and winding voyage the likes of which every real reality show producer wishes they could capture.
Well executed as it is, Anfanger and Schimpf’s general commitment to the reality format isn’t what makes the show original or worth watching. Reality TV has come to permeate every mental wall we’ve erected to block it out, and plenty of web series (and shows and movies) have experimented with confessional style, faux non-scriptedness to spice things up. The reason “Lonny” works so well is not its creators’ admiration for the reality form, but rather their brave abhorrence of it.
In a multi-layered meta parody, creators have found a way to make fun of the sensationalistic fabric of “reality” TV while leveraging its familiar allure. The result is a shrewdly conceived, well-produced, impressively creative bent on the gimmickry of almost every timeslot-filler on television right now.
“Lonny” prevented my nightmare from coming true this week for several reasons.
2. Parody within parody
3. Surreal theme/narrative balance
“Visuals” can refer to a lot of different elements: sight gags, production value, cinematography, special effects. In the case of Lonny, it means all four, and more. The series is well written, but what it shows viewers, will grab them. Quick.
Everyone loves a good parody, but it’s hard to base an entire web series around one…unless the parody varies. While staying true to the premise that sets up each episode, Lonny is careful to layer parodies, bringing in a new one in each installment — from psychological thrillers to heavy-handed rags-to-riches hip-hop dramas.
Comedy based on the surreal is hard to pull off without getting too wrapped up in the craziness of everything being surreal. (“Now, all the characters can fly because of a secret chip implanted in their brains by alien ghosts, or something — awesome, right?!”) Smart storylines that make sense are often lost along the way. Lonny does a nice job of balancing narrative order with Sci-Fi excitement.