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DID YOU READ

Two Mediums, One Earth

Two Mediums, One Earth (photo)

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As a kid, I loved “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, which (for anyone too young to remember the series and ignorant of its recent, ho-hum revival) offered fantastical tales that branched out in different directions depending on decisions you made during the story. If you wanted to enter the haunted mansion, you turned to page 15, and if you instead wanted to go into the cave, you went to page 25. Of course, despite supposedly having a say over the action, the books offered readers only the illusion of control — every “choice” was obviously already written and thus preordained.

As such, the interactivity of “Choose Your Own Adventure” novels isn’t all that removed from that provided by video games, which let you steer a main character, and in some cases give you the chance to alter a tale’s final outcome, but — since everything has been coded and programmed beforehand — can’t give you true power over the proceedings. You may be able to travel down this path rather than that path, or finish with a “good” rather than “bad” ending, but such influence is at best minor, and largely a mirage.

This isn’t a negative thing — you could definitely make a convincing argument that art (whether it be games, TV, theater, or film) functions far better when its creators maintain overriding control. Not to mention that it’s up for debate whether consumers really want to shape the nature and development of their entertainment. Don’t, however, tell that to the Syfy network, which has announced plans to go forward with a cross-medium venture tentatively known as “One Earth” that will involve an ongoing TV show and a complementary MMORPG (massive multiplayer online role-playing game).

The hook of “One Earth” is that events on the show will be reflected in the game, and events that take place in the game will have direct consequences for the show’s storyline. It’s a hybrid project that aims to combine two things popular with the network’s fanbase — fantasy TV series and video games — in ways that not only make opportunities for cross-promotion, but also offer the possibility of new and unique interactive storytelling paradigms.

01292010_worldofwarcraft.jpgAt least in theory. For now, “One Earth” remains mostly a mystery — its title was only revealed earlier this month by Syfy Channel parent company General Electric during a shareholders’ report, and details continue to be sketchy about how the show/game will actually operate. What we do know is this: Syfy will be developing the project with Trion gaming studio, it was originally planned to be an offshoot of “Battlestar Galactica” but will now take place in a wholly original universe, and repercussions from things that happen in the show will be felt in the game and vice versa. Even the promotional video found on the GE Reports’ website provides little more than generalized talk about the upside of melding these two different art forms into something supposedly revolutionary.

There’s no denying the upside to the “One Earth” concept — the popularity of the “Battlestar Galactica” and “Stargate” series, as well as that of blockbuster MMORPGs like “World of Warcraft,” make it seem that there’s a sizable overlapping audience to be enticed by the notion of two-as-one entertainments. With a compelling narrative that players could sway with their own behavior, the game/show might in theory deliver the type of consuming immersion that even “Warcraft” can only dream of, providing a wholly realized sci-fi world in which viewers/players would feel like genuine members.

Hypothetical business benefits aside, “One Earth” seems like the first real attempt to fashion a 21st century mode of storytelling, one that embraces at-our-fingertips digital culture while still allowing its creators to retain a level of control over their inventions. To develop a TV show that, for example, hints at conflicts that are then played out in an online game console/PC realm, and to have the outcomes of those conflicts reflected in a subsequent episode of the program, is to take steps toward a fairly bold new frontier in which authorial control is more evenly divided between artists and users.

That said, even if Comcast’s purchase of NBC Universal (which owns Syfy) doesn’t derail the project, there remain serious questions about cross-medium integration like this can properly function. Will the scripted show air every week, or less frequently (so writers can integrate gaming-world events into the plot)? Will gamers play as show protagonists, or random nobodies? And will gamers’ actions really have significant impact on the show, or will online battles and plot twists be merely high-tech versions of “Choose Your Own Adventure” style phony-control gimmickry?

01292010_ificandream2.jpgIt’s hard not to believe the latter will wind up being closest to the truth — if there’s one thing a conglomerate like NBC Universal is determined to maintain, it’s power over high-profile properties it’s spent years and millions developing. Yet hope springs eternal, and at this early stage, it’s still possible to believe that “One Earth” could create something new and groundbreaking out of its marriage of TV and gaming, even with these myriad unanswered questions. And if not, there’s always Simon Fuller’s upcoming reality/social media hybrid “If I Can Dream,” which combines a “Real World”-esque scenario with webcam/chat elements. If gaming isn’t going to lead the interactive show charge, maybe the chance to Facebook message an aspiring model/actress will.

[Additional photos: “World of Warcraft,” Blizzard, 2004; “If I Can Dream,” Hulu, 2010]

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.