Even if Netflix doesn't have another hit any time soon, the continued success and addictive powers of House of Cards have cemented the company's position on the throne of original streaming drama. And Netflix has Arrested Development coming up next, but that's an already familiar product. Now, in the high-stakes race to commoditize the new couch potato, other online networks-in-the-making like Hulu, Yahoo, Amazon, and maybe even AOL are working overtime to become a potential new king of the online-only comedy series. Can Netflix keep you binging across both ends of the entertainment spectrum? Or is there a funny sleeper hit in the works from the Internet, where two-minute clips are true kings, and 22-minute series are usually, well, really bad?
Yahoo has already had a hit of sorts with Burning Love, a spoof of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette produced by Ben Stiller and featuring a veritable who's who of comedy names. Who stops by? Everyone from Jennifer Aniston to Michael Ian Black to most of the cast of Party Down, the beloved, little-watched and dearly departed Starz series. What Yahoo seems to be going for with their new original programming, announced this week, is the weird and (hopefully) wonderful. They've got Tiny Commando, about a four-inch private investigator, that according to the Hollywood Reporter capitalizes on creator Ed Helms' love of radio controlled cars. Another new Yahoo show is about Cheryl Hines and Rachael Harris being mean to a personal assistant. Lastly, in what could be Yahoo's best or worst effort, comes a series produced by documentarian Morgan Spurlock called Losing Your Virginity with John Stamos, in which celebrities tell Stamos about their first times. Per THR Stamos said: "We're going to do re-enactments (of celebrity first sexual experiences) with puppets, Barbies, animation." So, yeah. These Yahoo shows have established talent doing strange things that they couldn't possibly be doing on network television.
That's partly what Hulu seems to be going for, too, at least with Seth Meyers's superhero animated series, The Awesomes, co-produced by Late Night with Jimmy Fallon's Michael Shoemaker. It seems like a possibly funny cult hit, filled with a ton of familiar SNL voices. (Amazon is also trying their hand at the college-stoner-animated-series thing with Supanatural, an animated series about mall workers fighting supernatural forces that has been met with a decidedly mixed response.)
But Hulu, which is airing U.S. premieres of overseas fare like Chris O'Dowd's Moone Boy, has something else intriguing in its new lineup, also unveiled this week: a series co-produced by the BBC starring James Corden, a star in the U.K. who made a splash on U.S. shores last year when he won the Tony for One Man, Two Guvnors. The series, about two guys caught up in a conspiracy, is called The Wrong Mans. It looks, at least from its teaser, to be well-produced and visually as well as topically interesting
Production value is a big factor with streaming originals, and it has been a problem. Amazon released all of their pilots online for free so that viewers could weigh in as to which go to series. Despite the big names behind them, some of the new pilots—including the musical we previously wrote about, Browsers—seemed to us almost, well, amateurish with clunky dialogue and no visual style. The network's Onion News Empire has that sheen of production value, but it's surprisingly not funny enough to help Amazon burst in on the comedy scene right now. The Garry Trudeau-scripted, John Goodman-starring senator sitcom Alpha House might have a better shot. But it's anyone's game, really. Netflix, meanwhile, has a "comedy-drama" on the way: Orange is the New Black, which was adapted from a memoir about a Smith College grad's time in prison. Doesn't exactly sound like a laugh riot. Our bet is on would-be cult hits with established names... as long as it's not too budget. Even Frank Underwood likes his fancy video games.