10 Great Web Series You Should Be Watching

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Imagine a world where you can delete the characters you hate from your favorite TV show. A world in which shows about musical theater aren’t over-produced and make sense. A world in which a cabal of pre-aughts celebrities staff the Burbank IKEA. This isn’t the future, everybody, this is now. Yep, we have a whole lot more than just Dr. Horrible to talk about these days.

While original web programming is still defining itself — from both a creative and business standpoint — it’s also poised to replace traditional TV entirely. But until we get there, we’ll refer to this rapidly growing medium as an entity unto itself. Some web series are excellent because they are so simple in concept, like SNL writer Mike O’Brien interviewing celebrities in his personal closet. Meanwhile, others like Bryan Singer’s H+, which we got to check out at an early screening this week, have special effects people are calling “too good to be on the Internet.”

For those of you who haven’t heard of either of these shows, and are interested in checking the territory out, we’ve rounded up some of the most innovative new series out there, as well as some oldies (which in webisode speak translates to “circa 2008”) that are worth catching up on. And if you’re feeling the weight of your pre-existing TV schedule, never fear! With some episodes clocking in at under five minutes, they’re actually pretty manageable (albeit dangerously addictive). Have a favorite web show you think we should be watching? Please, do share in the comments!

H+

If a greater part of the human population was hardwired to the Internet, you can imagine the mishegas that would ensue — everyone walking around, swiping at the invisible computer in their brain; Skype sex reaching dangerous new levels of intimacy; more marital disputes than ever over a spouse “watching the game” while they were supposed to be “listening” and/or “driving”; and a third of Earth getting infected and instantaneously wiped out by a digital virus. That’s the basic premise of H+, a new web series premiering August 8th on YouTube, starring some people you might recognize from the traditional tube, including Buffy’s Alexis Denisof and New Girl’s Hannah Simone.

A common feature of the latest Web TV, as you’ll see later in this list, are “immersive” offerings, which both Warner Bros. and the creative forces behind H+ were especially excited about at this week’s screening. Viewers of the show will have the ability to create their own playlist (as they would on YouTube regularly) and re-cut the series in the order they wish. Or they can mash up the episodes into feature-length movie format by removing in/out points. And if they only want episodes from the point of view of one character, they can do that, too (although we wouldn’t recommend cutting anyone initially — each storyline we previewed was pretty interesting, not to mention too short to ever get boring). The big question now is whether or not viewers will want control of their viewing experience, and if so, does it portend a wonderful new level of geekdom or TV apocalypse?

Electric City

The other big apocalyptic web series of the summer has been rolled out as a “first-of-its-kind, 360-degree online interaction.” This is fancy marketing speak for extras that include a sidebar character guide (much like watching Game of Thrones with Interactive Features on HBO Go), an official role-playing app, and a 3D map of the titular city. The first ten episodes premiered yesterday on Yahoo, and the rest will be released tomorrow. If you like a good dystopian story, or just find Tom Hanks‘ voice irresistible (guilty), then you should check this one out.

Burning Love

You only need to have seen about five minutes of The Bachelor over the course of its ten-year run to appreciate the brilliance of this send-up, starring Ken Marino as dippy and self-absorbed fireman Mark, who must bestow his “hoses” (in lieu of the “roses”) each elimination round to a pool of contestants that includes an octogenarian, a woman with a monkey heart (evoking the inevitable question: “Can a monkey heart love like a human one?”), Ken Jeong as pedicurist/dancer Ballerina, and Jennifer Aniston in a panda suit. Just about everything everyone says on this show is hilarious, and the subtleties, like Marino tripping on invisible sidewalk cracks or the dramatic reaction shots of these talented ladies, are pitch-perfect. We recommend you check out the first season, which wrapped on July 12th, as well as the reunion episode “Hosed Off” (which aired this Monday and includes a big twist!). Fingers crossed for a Bachelorette follow-up, which creator Erica Oyama is reportedly hoping to make.

Submissions Only

In a world where we’ve been spoiled by emotionally intelligent shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad, made-for-Internet dramas can often feel more like shorter daytime soaps. And it would make sense to assume a show about the most drama-ridden world of all — Broadway — would be unable to keep its cheese in check, but Submissions Only strikes the perfect balance of satire and sweet. The story of a group of friends trying to make it in NYC, this series cuts through the hoopla of other musical theater shows in recent memory (Glee, Smash) and offers an incredibly funny, heartfelt, and Auto-Tune free look behind the closed doors of the audition room. You can watch the first two seasons at Broadway.com; they include some great guest-appearances, like Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson having one of those auditions that gets worse with each improvised choreography move (see above clip).

Dirty Work

Here’s another take on “immersive storytelling.” Instead of giving the viewer autonomy over the way they watch the show (H+) or providing a ton of ancillary content (Electric City), this new series invites viewers to become part of the action. Dirty Work follows a bioremediation crew (the fancy term for the people who scrape brains and blood from crime scenes) with Scooby Gang sensibilities, and you (the viewer) get to be part of all the trouble through pop-up emails, text messaging, and phone calls (at one point in the pilot episode we received a phone call from a character’s spastic internal dialogue as he tried to hit on a girl). If you decide to watch with enhancements, just beware of the really weird text message history that will be left in your phone. See:

Hey, it’s Bambi. I need a ride outta here. Would like 2 leave b4 they come back and murder me. 🙂

Off Book

Those who were brought up on PBS will appreciate this web series on “the connections between pop culture, technology and art.” Topics explored include: Lego Art, Steampunk, Typography, GIFs, Reddit, and much more. Here’s hoping the good folks at our favorite non-profit network keep developing more fun educational content, which has proven to jibe well with the webisode format. Anything in the vein of Mister Rogers Remixed would be cool, too.

7 Minutes in Heaven

What better setup for a talk show than the most awkward experience of junior high? But don’t be fooled by the premise, SNL writer/host Mike O’Brien doesn’t shy away from pressing his guests with the hard-hitting questions, like, “[In] Jurassic Park, when you saw the water-cup shaking, did you shit your pants?” In case you didn’t already guess, that one was for guest Jeff Goldblum. Other celebrities that have stopped by Mike’s closet include Elijah Wood, Jon Hamm, Andy Cohen, Tina Fey, and a bunch of our other favorite SNL alum and cast members. Sadly, the show just posted its final episode — but it leaves behind a fantastic archive.

Geek Therapy

Dressing as a slutty Princess Leia for Halloween, reciting facts from The Last Starfighter Wikipedia page, or watching TRON: Legacy doesn’t give you the right to call yourself a “geek.” Poseury is out of control in this country, and the Geek Therapist is here to take it on (see above around 1:25 for one of the most wonderful dramatic monologues on what it means to be a true geek). At the same time, she’s here to help the “real” geeks, like Skyrim addicts, catatonic Steve Jobs mourners, and comic-book scribes who’ve lost their grip on reality post-New 52. You can find the first two seasons of this delightfully fresh therapy show at Comediva, and be sure to look out for their third, which Executive Producer Erika Cervantes tells us will launch on Stan Lee’s World of Heroes and consist of 14 new episodes. In the meantime you can continue your pursuit of slacktivism with BAMF Girls Club , Comediva’s brand new reality show about today’s most badass heroines (plus Bella).

Save the Supers

From the website that brought you Wainy Days and You Suck at Photoshop comes a new series about “a group of superheroes trying to survive the economic downturn.” Don’t be fooled by the tagline or the title of the first issue (“The Super Force Versus the Bottom Line”) — this show has plenty of action, in the form of some very bloody word play (check out the first minute of the pilot, above). You might recognize the group’s fiscally conscious leader, Merman, as one Sandeep Parikh, from The Legend of Neil and web-series institution The Guild . Look for more Save the Supers, plus tons of extras, in the weeks to come at My Damn Channel.

Easy to Assemble

We completely empathize if you’re sick of seeing celebrities playing winky-winky fictionalized versions of themselves, but we gotta say Illeana Douglas’ spin on the trope — ditching Hollywood to work full-time at IKEA — is wonderfully bizarre, and the only place you’ll find Tom Arnold giving a demo on Meatball Preparation or Justine Bateman’s talk show 40 and Bitter , which takes place exclusively on the store’s main floor. If any of this sounds appealing (or you, too, have been fascinated with IKEA since the ’80s), we recommend checking out the critically acclaimed series on its YouTube channel before the final season airs this fall.