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In Sunday's Calendar: How good is Web TV?

June 24, 2011 |  8:00 am

In this Sunday's Calendar, I write about the increasingly rich and varied world of Web dramas and sitcoms. After several false starts in which companies formed and companies dissolved, the Internet — as streaming media has become a reliable and not a frustrating viewing experience, and consumers more and more use computers to watch traditional TV — is finally coming into its own as a place to tell stories. Much of what's to be found on the Web is more academically interesting than aesthetically rewarding, though the Web's niche nature also means that even minor ventures can, with the right premise or hook, find an audience. But some of what's online now would be worth watching under any circumstances.

Here are clips from two of my favorite Web series.

Web drama in its early stages tended toward teen soaps and genre action, possibly in part because those conventions being well understood, viewers could fill out briefly sketched characters and situations for themselves. (Webisodes tend to be short.) "Downsized" is something else. Created by and co-starring Daryn Strauss -- also behind the female-friendly Web-drama guide Digital Chick TV -- it's made for grown-ups in a grown-up way. Seven ordinary New Yorkers contend with the recession and its effects not just on their pocketbooks but on their love lives. In this scene, Andy (Conan McCarty), who is going door-to-door trying to generate interest in an anti-materialist self-help program, pays a call on his ex-wife, who is about to sell all their stuff.

In the Ikea-sponsored and -set "Easy to Assemble," creator and star Ileanna Douglas plays herself as an actress fleeing acting for the safety of retail. ("I decided to turn down the bad TV movie," she says in an early episode, "and lead my life as a bad TV movie instead. That way I'm in control, I'm the star of my own bad TV movie here at IKEA.") Justine Bateman plays her friend, nemesis and co-worker, Justine Bateman. In the clip, she interviews Douglas on her store-based talk show. With its thorough interlacing of brand and content -- something more than product placement, yet productively integral to the comedy -- "Easy to Assemble" is the sort of show that could only exist in the undefined reaches of the Internet. Each episode is only a few minutes long, but there are continuing threads and the word "show" definitely applies. Note: That's also Douglas on the TV monitor at the end, in a blond wig as a member of Spärhusen, a sort of "Easy to Assemble" spinoff about a legendary Swedish pop band.

-- Robert Lloyd


Critics notebook: Web TV is just waiting to click