Ladies and Gentlemen! Allow me to introduce to you, the first episode of my new series of video essays: Random Richards Reviews.
In the pilot episode, I search for the next Wilhelm Scream. See if you can guess my first test subject.
You know, when the creator of an animated show is credited for being the Storyboard revisionist for Adventure Time, you know this is going to be one trippy ride. Especially considering she is the one responsible for the gender swapped episodes with Fiona and Cake. She doesn’t disappoint with Bee and Puppycat, a brand new online series on YouTube. It is part of Cartoon Hangover, a new YouTube channel dedicated to bringing a series of animated shorts. Though they have other shows, this show is the one giving them the most attention. With its oddball characterization, trippy storytelling and colorful animation, Bee and Puppycat will most certainly gain a cult following.
The show gets off to a good start with our heroine Bee floating in midair under a giant ball ocean while her pet Puppycat spins around. Though it would add nothing to the later episode, it is a great introduction to the beautiful animation, dream like tone the show delivers throughout. It is also an example of the potential of animated shows on the web. It also is a warning of how weird things are about to get. And no one would guess this episode would be just her grocery shopping and cooking a recipe with her boyfriend Deckard. Meanwhile, Deckard has been accepted into culinary school, but he isn’t sure if he wants to leave Bee.
Look hard enough on YouTube and you will find a fascinating web series worth watching. Sure, the website is known more for videos of cute kittens, let’s plays and people falling on their ass. With access to cameras, mics and film software on a budget, up and coming filmmakers are not only able to bring their vision on film but their films can be easily posted on a website with access to an unlimited audience. Without a studio head interfering with their work, creators have more opportunities to be experimental, even surrealistic. As a result, web series viewers might find are more likely to be an acquired taste (or lack thereof). Case in point is Don’t Hug Me, I’m Scared. Created by Becky Sloan and Joseph Pelling, this web series is a twisted and hilarious parody of Sesame Street.
The show centers around three Muppet: Harry; Manny; and, Robin. Harry is an easily-bored humanoid red alien. Manny is the Muppet equivalent to Lennie from Of Mice and Men. Robin is a green bird in a brown shirt. Their names are never mentioned on the show so the fans gave them the aforementioned names. I would have gone with Red, Lennie and Ducky, but the fans have spoken. What’s first worth noting is the design of each character. Manny’s design is obviously a take off of Ernie. While the other Muppets use the classic design, Harry is obviously a guy in a red suit with a red mop placed on top of his head. I love two things about the design of Harry. I love how every time, Harry talks, he blows on the strings. I also love how the eyes on top of his head makes him look like those wide-jawed Sesame Street aliens who go Yep, Yep, Yep.
Each episode begins with the guys just sitting around doing nothing. The first thing you admire is the design of the world. In the first episode, they sit in a light colored living room. I love how nearly everything is made of felt, especially the letters and the newspaper, the Right Wing. It has a light colored look resembling a set of the surrealistic comedy The Mighty Boosh.
Then their notebook starts singing to them, trying to teach them how to think “CREATIVELY.” The fan base calls the notebook Paige. She introduces them to a series of fun activities, from seeing a smiley face on an orange to rearranging sticks to spell their favorite colors. Though one should wonder about the lyrics; “Listen to your heart/Listen to the rain/Listen to the voices in your brain”. Plus, every time Manny tries to get creative, Paige shuts him down. He gets the biggest sting when they get to the sticks, which leads to the following hilarious line:
PAIGE: Green is not a creative color.
All of a sudden, the show turns into amateur CGI and starts spinning around the behind the scenes set. It becomes Requiem for a Dream with an insane montage intercutting the characters (now people in costume) dancing being cut with disturbing images of a cow’s heart being sprinkled with glitter and organs sneaking into a mouse hole. Here is where people will be split about this web series.
Every episode follows the same trope. Each episode begins with the characters sitting around. Then a Muppet enters with a catchy song about a particular them, including time and love. It leads to a disturbing montage of decay. This is a definitely show of acquired taste, or lack thereof. It is more for those who love the macabre humor of Monty Python. The show it most resembles is Wonder Showzen, MTV’s short-lived send up of Sesame Street. Like the web series, Showzen centers each episode on a particular theme, including patience and peace. Both experiment not just with different forms of puppetry, but with other forms of animation. Like the web series, Showzen has a super twisted sense of humor. While there are segments more accessible for a wider audience (especially the on the street interviews with the puppet Clarence and some smart alecky kids) a lot of it contains the grossest, horniest, offensive jokes ever. One segment was about a duck that travels back in time via his own butthole so he could take a dump on Einstein’s brain in order to prevent the invention of the atomic bomb. Yeah. That isn’t the most disturbing joke on the show. It is also for a selective taste.
When you have a name like Don’t Hug Me, I’m Scared, it should be a given that you will get something weird. But whether or not it is to people’s taste, there is something to admire about the show. With a limited budget, Sloan and Pelling stir a lot of creative juice in this episode. They put a lot of effort into the design of the Muppets and their universe, going above and beyond the usual standards of most web series. Plus, one has to admire the way they experiment with all forms of animation and puppetry in each episode. Those with the taste of the macabre will enjoy a hilarious sting at the simple lessons of Sesame Street. Though they only produced three episodes so far, the creators brought a lot into those episodes. Earlier this year, they launched an Indiegogo campaign to produce more episodes. In keeping with the show, they produce a video of the characters being held hostage.
I go from reviewing an online show centered on online gaming to an online show centered on LARPing. One Hit Die is Canada’s answer to the Guild. There are a few similarities. First, they both center on a timid woman who becomes an unlikely leader of a group of oddballs. It centers on a form of gaming. While the gaming of the Guild takes place on a computer screen, One Hit Die takes place in fields. Episodes for both are under ten minutes. The creators and stars will be appearing in the show. Fortunately, they are both witty send ups of the Fantasy genre while paying a loving tribute to the games.
The show begins like any other fantasy. In the Seven Realms, the people live under the tyranny of a sorcerer. But a prophecy tells of a warrior who will find the orb of Mendes and bring peace into the world. Gwendolyn (Larissa Thompson) believes she is destined to find that orb. Joined by Sasha the fighter (Julie Orton), Torvold the rogue (Andrew Long) and Azurus the wizard (Phil Burke), Gwendolyn the healer begins her quest to find the orb. The first scenes seems like a scene from Lord of the Rings with an aerial shot of the fellowship walking across a field. All of a sudden, Sasha takes an axe to the cameraman.
At this point, the show takes a sharp turn from Middle Earth to Modern Family, complete with reality show-esque interviews. In the first episode, the fellowship has a lot of choice words for each other. Gwendolyn tries to convince the stab happy Sasha to try negotiation instead of killing every creature that comes their way. Torvold is frustrated with the “hungry, hungry hippogriff” Sasha taking all of the experience points. “Sasha tries to gut [a fish] and skin it herself” Torvold complains “You don’t get experience points from a fish.” Meanwhile, Azurus is too busy “regenerating” aka sleeping. Then there’s the question of whether the hole on the dead creature is a mouth or a gash from Sasha’s axe.
The interesting difference between One Hit Die and The Guild is perspective. The Guild is written from an outsider’s point of view who sees the character’s personal lives and the role pc games play in their lives. In fact, we never actually see the games. It is only at the end of season 4 where the game world is finally seen. In contrast, creator Spencer Estabrooks shoots the show from an insider’s perspective. Though the characters talk in modern dialogue and reference “experience points”, the whole show is shot as if it were a fantasy. We never see their personal lives outside the game. It’s never even brought up. As far as they care, this is their world. We see this journey as they imagine it. In its own charming way, it shows the outsider the reasons people enjoy LARPing.
The characters also help with the charm. Each character contrasts and plays off the others very well. Plus, they are very entertaining characters. Thompson’s performance is so sweet and warm she charms the audience into rooting for Gwen despite being a little out of her league. Orton is delightfully brash as Sasha. Burke brings all the elements you can’t help but enjoy in a stoner/slacker. It’s Long who steals the show. He brings an interesting twist to the Rogue character. He has the classic trait of greed but he is frustrated that Sasha keeps getting all his experience point. At one point, he gets so desperate he bludgeons a troll Sasha had just stabbed to steal experience points. At the same time, he feels a need for others for him to share his greediness with, even if it is the ghost of the troll he killed.
So far, the show consists of 4 episodes and two Christmas specials. The show keeps the characters on a humorous journey, finding their destiny constantly undermined by botched magic, deadly creatures and each other. It would still be fun to see them go through their journey to fulfill said prophecy.