Two big names recently officially began their latest foray into Internet television when both Tom Hanks’ “Electric City” and Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee” premiered online, and let’s just say the response to one of them has been luke warm. Maybe even cold. Maybe freezing. Maybe …
Anyways, first to the one I can’t get enough of, Seinfeld’s “Comedians.” It’s only one episode in, but those 13 minutes with Larry David are priceless if only for how candid the footage feels. For once, we see the two minds behind the most popular comedy of the 1990s simply exist as people who like one another. There is no use of character here. There is no schtick (though it should also be noted that it’s clear both go searching for bits within the context of their conversations). And maybe most importantly, there is no script.
Don’t believe me?
“Indeed, the best aspect of the debut episode of ‘Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee’ is to see the two in their natural habitat, laughing far more than they would ever allow their deadpans to do on TV,” the Associated Press’s Jake Coyle wrote this week while noting how promising the series is.“At one point, a chortling David spits out his herbal tea (he makes a minor protest over the coffee ritual) after Seinfeld uses the word ‘debauched.'”
As for the other series in question …
Well, in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll admit to not sitting down with “Electric City.” It’s not that I don’t like Tom Hanks — because, I mean, my God. Who doesn’t like Tom Hanks? — it’s just that I don’t like animation, a “post-apocalyptic society” or Yahoo (seriously: Who even uses Yahoo anymore, anyway?). But herein lies the beauty of the Internet, friends. Why listen to me, when we have oh, so many other people who are more than willing to tell us what they think?
“As is often the case with digital series, the hype outpaced the show’s quality, which is dragged down by mediocre production value and a muddled purpose,” Coyle wrote of Hanks’ pet project.“The 20 episodes of five minutes are awkward, if easily consumable bite-sized helpings of a story that strives for long-form ambiguity and seriousness.”
OK, OK. So the series might not be all that good. But even so, the launching of it and the amount of press it’s received has shone a spotlight on the world of Internet television, and that’s got to count for something, right?
The New York Times sat down with Hanks recently to talk about the unveiling of this project that has seemingly been in the works for exactly one thousand years. What’s telling about the Q&A isn’t necessarily the way he continues to sport that god-awful goatee (come on, man!). Instead, the more pressing stuff comes from when Dave Itzkoff asked him what he thinks his series might mean for the future of web television.
“Although no one else has, we gave up long ago (on) the idea that you can make money doing this,” Hanks explained. “It has yet to happen, and I think it has yet to happen because at the end of the day it is all free. … Here’s how I understand it, because I’ve asked this question really well. … The question was, ‘Explain to me how this is good for Yahoo?’ And it just is: ‘Then you’d click on the Yahoo page.’ And that’s all they want. They want the eyeballs. They say, ‘Let us pay you to create content,’ and we say, ‘Great, because we have this content we’re really excited about.’ But the caveat is, no one gets rich. [laughs] Everybody got a check for doing this. I don’t think anybody makes money at this thing. But they get the freedom in order to do whatever they want to do. And that’s palpable, man. That gets everybody excited. We get to do whatever we want to do here? Yeah, you do. Well, sign us up, we got another 20 story ideas. And it could go on and on and on forever.”
Somewhere, the dudes who had the idea to turn “The Critic” into a web series are shaking their heads.
Hanks’ comments are interesting only because Yahoo is as popular as it is. According to Forbes, the site is second only to Google when it comes to viewership, bringing in 60 million viewers a month. And how many web series was it that Google has lined up again? Exactly.
As for “Comedians,” the whole thing is seemingly backed by Seinfeld, though it should also be noted that Crackle.com is showing the episodes on its site every Thursday night, when the new ones are supposed to come out (though as of 10 p.m. on a Thursday night, I admit that I am still waiting on bended knee for the next installment, featuring the brilliant Ricky Gervais). That said, who knows what or if Seinfeld is getting anything in return for his work.
So … what does all this mean? Well, as someone who has been blogging about this stuff for over a year now, I can say with 100 percent certainty that “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee” is the very first web series I have come across that I feel is good enough to keep up with. To me, that’s a big step. To you — well, I don’t know you, so I can’t speak for you, silly. Either way, it’s clear that the whole Internet television thing is making at least a little bit of headway when it comes to producing quality content.
“The platform is there. The machinery to launch, promote and distribute these series is clearly in place now,” Coyle said. “The future — one kind or another — is online.”