Looking back at a year’s worth of professionally produced web content (which, by the definition we’re using today, refers to any series that had some sort of official support system to aid in their production and/or release), I kept noticing that most of the great stuff out there was made with the same independent spirit that drove many of my top 10 indie favorites — in fact, at least half of them came very directly from a grassroots background. That said, though, some real money did get thrown at creating interesting content in 2009. And some of it was even pretty awesome.
- Auto-Tune the News
In partnership with Next New Networks’ Barely Political, Michael Gregory and the Gregory Brothers rode the wave of one of 2009’s most defining memes to earn viral glory; guest appearances by Alexa Chung, Obama Girl and T-Pain; an advertising deal with Sony; and some well-deserved applause at NewTeeVee Live.
- That’s Gay
Current’s Infomania took a cue from the fantastic Target Women and gave comedian Bryan Safi a platform to rant about the depiction of the homosexual in the media. And Safi’s critiques bring some sorely needed edge and wit to an increasingly intense national debate.
- Angel of Death
March 2009 kicked a whole lot of butt thanks to the Ed Brubaker-created Crackle series, which is now available only on DVD. It’s a disappointing decision, but the memory of Zoe Bell with a knife stuck in her head will endure.
- Heart Felt
I almost didn’t want to include this one out of spite, because I’m a little bitter we haven’t gotten a second episode of this hilarious puppets-and-The Hills mashup. But this pilot, created by Black20 for 15 Gigs, is still one of the funniest things I saw this year.
- The Cheeseburger Show
Kevin Pang’s multi-episode ode to Chicago-area cheeseburgers was, according to Pang, largely self-funded, but under the Chicago Tribune brand it established itself as one of the most charming food commentaries online. Episode 12 appears to be the last, but hopefully it won’t be Pang’s last online video effort.
This fall, MTV’s first real foray into the vampire genre (produced by Electric Farm Entertainment) became my go-to example for what ARG content can add to a series. The official web site, which took on the appearance of the titular fictional university, gave birth to a thriving community of fans who were encouraged to insert themselves into the story, and helped the series become so popular that an oldteevee transition may be in the works.
- The Guild: Do You Wanna Date My Avatar?
Between landing TV’s Wil Wheaton as a villain and winning a whole mess of Streamys, The Guild had a great year. But the short that really showed what a powerhouse the series had become was the addictive music video (directed by Dr. Horrible co-writer Jed Whedon) released to promote the third season premiere. Within hours of uploading, the video had gone viral and the song was topping the iTunes charts. Better yet, it wasn’t The Guild’s last bit of clever viral advertising for the year; instead, it established a tradition of finding fresh ways to get people watching.
- HBO Imagine
Created to help spread the HBO brand, this interactive video experience’s interface was an innovation in how it allowed users to engage with the narrative. The more you explore the story, which begins with an intriguing suggestion of an affair and quickly increases in complexity, the more you learn and the more you want to know — it’s a far better investment of an hour or two than rewatching whatever awful romantic comedy the pay cable channel is rerunning on the hour.
- Web Therapy
Friends‘ Lisa Kudrow has proved several times over that she’s more than just Phoebe, but the second season of her Lexus-produced comedy series, directed by Don Roos, was an exceptional showcase for her talents, while also pushing the premise’s narrative potential and enlisting a fantastic guest cast, including Victor Garber, Alan Cumming, and Courtney Cox-Arquette.
The first drama series to get an exclusive distribution deal with Dailymotion, this eight-episode noir thriller circumvented expectation by largely disregarding the plot and instead focusing exclusively on exploring its internally twisted characters, brought to life by some of the best acting in web series last year. The result was a fresh spin on the genre that ended with a pretty dramatic cliffhanger; while I’d have liked to have seen more resolution to some of the storylines in the first season, I’m definitely excited for season two.
That’s just what I think, though. How about you — what would you have put on or kept off this list?