Posted by: wolferiver | August 17, 2007

Webisodes, Part I

A Word about Webisodes

Ever since the news broke that Farscape is coming back as a series of webisodes I’ve been pondering to myself about what that might mean.

First of all, what are webisodes exactly? I’m told that they’re 3 to 5 minute long episodes of any show, and specifically designed to be available to viewers on the internet. I’m still not sure what that means. They’re longer than an advertisement, but shorter than a comedy show, or even a short film. It’s hard to believe that an entire story, or even a chapter of a story can be told in such a short time. Sure, advertisements often tell a story, but those are more like a joke with a punchline, and not something with an emotional arc, where a character starts at one point and makes a journey to another point. Other questions also come to mind. What sort of budgets do these have? What sort of stories can be told in short, three minute bursts? Heck, just how much story can be packed into three minutes? How satisfying can it be to watch these?

My online friends suggested that I check out the Battlestar Galactica webisodes, which are available to view at the same site that the upcoming Farscape webisodes will be available on.


So I surfed on over to SciFi’s Pulse website, and negotiated my way through its obscure navigation, and watched some of the webisodes. What a painful torment that was.

I have to confess, I’ve never liked BSG, mostly because it is a show with only two notes, grim and grimmer. I find most of the characters painfully dull, or worse. And there’s no glimmer of humor or mirth in the show, which I find utterly unhumanlike. All the characters are probably going to turn out to be Cylons all along.

Battlestar Galactica Webisode screen capture

These webisodes only served to reinforce everything I disliked about the show. Almost everything in the story is done solely through dialog. The characters are either sitting around and talking, or standing around and talking, and sometimes they walk a little bit while they talk. Mostly the talk revolves about a series of arguments among these characters. Sadly, the acting is not of the caliber that is able to improve the dull dialog.

The only action scene that I saw involved a Cylon attack — BUT they were never seen, and only their weapon fire could be heard in the background. Unbelievably, these invisible Cylons were able to kill one of the characters, although the audience is cheated of the actual sight of seeing the character get hit, and instead we have a long dissolve on the glassy eyes of the dead woman. This is the cheapest of cheap tricks in the scifi lexicon of cheap television production. It is something that one would expect in an old BBC Doctor Who production, and not in any Hollywood product. Even there, it would be punctuated with some sharp bit of dialog, rather than a hammy slow dissolve. It’s hard to know for sure, but I think this rather bloodless and passive scene was supposed to provide a pivotal moment in the story.

The scenes within the webisodes do not flow very well, and neither does the story from one episode to the next. The cuts are abrupt, with few establishing shots, and I don’t know how to describe it exactly, but there’s no rhythm or pace to the scenes. They are like random scenes that happen without any context. Had it not been for the caption at the bottom of the player describing what happens in each episode, I would have been completely confused.

I never could quite figure out who these indistinguishable cast of characters were, and I couldn’t tell if that was because I never saw the first episode, or if these were intended solely for fans of the show who would be expected to know who’s who. Perhaps the writers intended for these characters to be anonymous members of a generic refugee camp set in some generic BSG backdrop. Regardless, there’s nothing about them to pique any interest to the viewer.

From what I could gather, the story involves a group of resistance zealots inside this refugee camp, who argue incessantly among themselves about whether it’s morally okay to keep a weapons cache hidden among the “innocents” in the camp.

“It’s WRONG!” shouts one guy.

“But war is hell, and terrible things happen in a war, so what does it matter!” shouts the other guy.

Variations of this dialog gets repeated whenever these characters appear on the screen, which is frequently.

(“Ow, ow!” I say. “Make it STOP! It’s hurting my brain!”)

These zealots seem to only exist to argue endlessly and plot ineffectually. Meanwhile, an utterly anonymous refugee guy, who seems to have nothing to do with the story, and indeed, nothing else to do at all except to screw his wife all the time, is completely uninterested in anything else going on in the camp, despite her urging him to find a deeper meaning to life. She’s the one who gets killed in the Attack of The Invisible Cylons. At a worship ceremony, no less. (Oh, the poignant irony!) This spurs him to join the movement. The End. Oh, and news flash, there’s a traitor among the midst of the the zealots. It’s hard to believe that this script came from a professional writer.

Just to add more confusion to the disjointed story, everything is filmed using a damn shaky camera, for no discernible reason. The video quality of these webisodes is crappy, and in a few scenes the faces are blurry and indistinct. The streaming seems to be herky-jerky, so the shaky camera only makes the viewing experience even more miserable.

So to recap: painful dialog, thin story, non-descript acting, non-descript characters, static scenes so boring that not even the shaky camera can enliven. It is baffling to me why people love this show.

If the Farscape webisodes turn out to be this bad, it will break my heart.

Next time: I’ll search out some more webisode to examine.

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Responses

  1. […] this time about his short internet 3-part webisode.  Since I’m investigating webisodes (see here, here, and here) I thought I oughtta check it out. I’m not a huge fan of Whedon.  I enjoyed […]

  2. […] and production talent to be effective, none of which is easy to find for cheap.  However, I’ve also observed that deep pockets and the availability of industry professionals doesn’t necessarily make for […]


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