This Week’s Web Series You Need To Watch has explored tremendous variations in quality web video, from low budget viral hits (Tiny Apartment), to glossy, pitch-conscious sizzles (Starf*ckers ), to independent pursuits of proven TV masters (Explosion Bus), all the while attempting to forecast the ways TV might change to accommodate a movement toward Internet-only content. In AMC’s The Trivial Pursuits of Arthur Banks, we have our first clear answer. And it’s pretty exciting.
Arthur Banks is the inaugural product of AMC’s new Digital Studio, created to “extend [the AMC] brand to the web, and to nurture great young writers and directors in a unique way,” according to Joel Stillerman, the network’s Senior VP of original programming, production and digital content. AMC’s is a bold move made by a network flourishing within the secure bounds of televised original series, which begs the question: Are they serious about digital, or is it just a protectionist hat tip to the maturing and rapidly advancing web frontier? Watch Arthur Banks for one full minute and you’ll have your answer. This is no publicity stunt. AMC came to play.
I don’t laude the series because Arthur Banks is star-studded (it features Adam Goldberg, Jeffrey Tambor, and Larry Pine as narrator), because its production value nearly moved me to happy tears, or because episodes ran wonderfully long at 12-15 minutes per installment. No. I praise Arthur Banks, a show that focuses on the romantic foibles and neuroses of a “latent existentialist” playwright (Goldberg), because a major network chose to make it all these things and then chose to make it a web exclusive. Simply, AMC gets it.
All my self-indulgent macro industry views aside, it wouldn’t be fair to write this piece without giving the series its proper creative due. Impressively shot (thanks to cinematographer Erik Koretz), well written (thanks to Peter Glanz and Juan Iglesias), well scored (thanks to Jay Israelson), and, unsurprisingly well acted, the three-episode series is a rare blend of art house sophistication and mainstream accessibility — a stamp AMC has come to wear well over the last half-decade.
Without further adieu, your three reasons to watch.
I’ve talked a lot about the importance of strong characters. Strong character development is different because it suggests dimension that can’t be totally covered in one episode. Arthur Banks is produced with an eye toward gradually establishing protagonist depth over the course of a multi-episode arc — a trait very unusual (and refreshing) for a web piece.
I’m leery of anything shot in black and white, because the choice is so often a hackish tool employed by visionless directors who hope to make that which is shallow seem deep. Contrary to my biases, I’m not sure this series could have been shot any other way.
Lots of comedic works have parodied the Noir genre. Few have blended the form with comedy so seamlessly and fewer have actually needed the style to function as a complete whole.