In case you forgot how good the 'Strong Bad Emails' were.
Web series aren't even the future, they're the present. There are literally a bazillon web series out there. How does one determine which ones to watch? Well, you could start with Nerve's new favorite, Be Here Now-ish, and then come back to these eight that each pushed the medium forward in their own way.
1. Miss Muffy and the Muff Mob
At the turn of the millennium, the late, great Bullseye Art revolutionized Flash animation with its early web series, the biggest of which was Miss Muffy and the Muff Mob. It was a crazy show, part Powerpuff Girls, part Friday, about a crew of pastry-headed girls who could also rap really well. In the first episode, there's a reference to a pager, which dates it hardcore, but it's also genuinely funny and weird.
2. Strong Bad Emails
Way, way before Youtube, in the comparative internet Stone Age of 2001, the first Strong Bad email went up on Homestarrunner.com. It subsequently grew into a bona fide viral phenomenon before viral videos even really existed. And it spread totally organically, based on the extraordinary level of quality in its writing and animation. The formula of the Strong Bad emails wouldn't work today. Now that websites are rarely visited directly because of social media and Youtube, the self-contained interactivity (every episode had multiple Easter eggs) of the Strong Bad emails is a thing of the pre-shareable, slower-paced internet past.
3. Red vs. Blue
Red vs. Blue is a unique phenomenon. It's been running for eleven years and counting, a long time for any series, let alone something as ephemeral as a web cartoon created almost entirely using the video game Halo. But Red vs. Blue went deeper than guys simply recording themselves talking while they play a video game, and has evolved from a modest sitcom into an elaborate, emotionally resonant sci-fi drama. It's also become the most successful work in the machinima genre, which uses gameplay as animation. Since Red vs. Blue is mostly built from repurposed copyrighted images, it exists in a weird fair-use limbo where it's illegal, but also sanctioned by Microsoft. The show is a symbol of the blurry, porous boundaries of the internet.
Kids loved Fred; more accurately, only kids loved Fred and his eponymous show, because he was excruciatingly, intolerably annoying to anyone over the age of 11. Fred was a hyperactive six-year-old played by then-thirteen-year-old Nebraskan Lucas Cruikshank, and had a dark sense of humor that adults often choose not to see in kids. But Cruikshank capitalized, and became one of the first and biggest Youtube megastars, a youth-powered subculture that's probably larger than mainstream culture in terms of sheer numbers. At Fred's peak, his Youtube channel had over 2 million subscribers (he was the first Youtuber to have over a million), and his videos have accumulated over a billion views. A billion! There were three Fred made-for-TV movies and a Fred Nickelodeon show. Cruikshank has moved on, but Fred remains the character that made people realize that the biggest consumers of web series are kids.
5. Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis
No web series has achieved greater recognition than Between Two Ferns. No other web series has hosted the President of the United States of America, nor has any other web series received over 100 million cumulative views while actually being funny. Seriously, the fact that a video to promote health care starring the most famous and powerful man in the world is genuinely LOL-worthy is astounding, and a testament to Galifianakis and director Scott Aukerman's comedy chops.
6. Childrens Hospital
Rob Corddry's parody of medical dramas premiered on theWB.com (RIP) in 2008. The initial run of 10 short episodes was successful enough to get picked up by Adult Swim for a television version. It has since turned into a long-running linchpin of the Adult Swim lineup. It was the first successful web-to-TV adaptation. Childrens Hospital is way weirder and more absurdist than live-action TV comedy is usually allowed to be, and that is due to how faithful it has stayed to its online origin. It has retained the wide-open, anarchic freedom of the web while becoming an established TV show.
7. Broad City
Childrens Hospital had the benefit of studio backing. Broad City was self-produced by Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer and uploaded to Youtube in February of 2010. Four years later, it was a TV show. That long gestation allowed Broad City the TV show to be great from its very first episode while also retaining the web series' scrappy, DIY feel. Broad City is perhaps the very first series to totally organically transition from web to TV. There were celebrity co-signs later on, but Its creators were unknown before the show, and they made the whole thing themselves, long before Amy Poehler got involved. They've given the roughly 400 million other web series out there false hopes of success.
8. High Maintenance
The next step in web series is getting people to pay to watch them. Vimeo is going to try with an on-demand service featuring new episodes of High Maintenance, one of the best currently active web series. If this experiment works out, it could become the Showtime to the internet's HBO, Netflix.
Image via Funny or Die.