Anyone with a camera and a face can throw something up on YouTube and call it a show, and while a completely open, all-inclusive Internet video architecture can bestow upon us rare gems like the series written about every week in this column, a lot of what’s lurking out there is pretty terrible.
Web video terrain is as ungoverned as the Wild West. Viewers click around hoping to find something worthwhile, but are all too often exposed to unfunny horrors more akin to an introductory improv class gone wrong than a real TV show. Until content distributers find a legitimized way to separate the cream from the crap, quality web series won’t get their proper due or have the mainstream impact they deserve, and audiences will continue to think of web video as a bastion of little more than viral clips.
Luckily, there’s hope. Shows like Easy to Assemble give a taste of a punchy, smart brand of web entertainment with the power to give the boob tube a much-needed run for its money.
Written and created by bonafide B-list celebrity Illeana Douglas and commissioned by IKEA, Easy to Assemble’s first season premiered in 2008 on various web content platforms and was renewed for a second 10 episode run in 2009. On the show, Illeana and a star-studded cast grapple with ebbing fame while working and living in a Burbank IKEA store.
With regulars like Jeff Goldblum, Gregg Proops, Justine Bateman, and Jane Lynch, it’s not surprising that the writing’s strong and the acting’s polished. But what’s really attention grabbing about Easy to Assemble is not the humor, it’s that so many established actors spent their time on a series that could’ve never amounted to more than a glorified web ad for a Swedish furniture superstore, and that they did so in 2008. Easy to Assemble is more than good. It’s an early vote of Hollywood’s confidence in the web medium and the new frontiers it can race toward — creatively and financially speaking — if its unique power can be harnessed.
On the off chance that you’re not a web series nerd and didn’t want to read a mini-treatise on the web video revolution, I apologize and humbly beseech you to consider the three reasons to watch this week’s pick:
1. Star power
2. Brilliant advertising tie-ins
3. Heady industry commentary
Episode 3 — Co-mingling
Every series featured as This Week’s Web Series to Watch has been well acted, but Easy to Assemble is a cut above. Stars are stars for a reason (usually) and this show’s gaggle of recognizable talent makes it big-league good.
Episode 5 — Personal Shopper
Before I watched, the whole idea of setting a series in an IKEA portended a dumbed-down, albeit very expensive, use of “new media” to achieve what a 30-second commercial spot could. In actuality, Illeana Douglas seamlessly casts the store as a silent lead, mining it for comedic sensibilities that motor forward the show’s plot.
Episode 8 — Celebrity Bull Riding
One of the running jokes on Easy to Assemble is that Reality TV has sullied the concept of fame by turning untrained nobodies into celebrities who, in turn, strip all glory from those who had once been working TV actors. In the Reality age, all these big shots-cum-outcasts can do to keep from working at IKEA is vie for spots on monstrosities like Dancing with the Stars. Easy to Assemble makes a smart and funny commentary on the changing face of network TV and, in doing so, showcases web series’ potential as more prominent vehicles for good old-fashioned storytelling.
Luke Kelly-Clyne is a writer, etc. living in New York City.