Judging the Outbreak of Webisodes

In a world where not many

people can find something to agree on, there is one idea we can all rally around: Comcast sucks. We must all make it our goal for 2014 to send the media giant the way of Blockbuster; no longer should its stranglehold monopoly be allowed to charge people $160 a month, only to see their picture and Wifi signal dip in and out like the daddy who left you but periodically wanders back into your life whenever he needs his laundry done.

If you are savvy and not particularly scared of viruses, there's a ton of illegal TV streaming sites. There are also more and more web-based sites that are creating their own programming. Netflix of course prevails on that front, with its two great original series,

Orange Is The New Black and House of Cards

. But what about the other sites, like Yahoo and Amazon, that have built their empires on other things and are now trying to break into TV? I decided to douse myself in their output for a week to see what was in their anti-personnel arsenal against Comcast, and the results are mixed. The short version: There is nothing out there that competes with Netflix or cable. The good news is that there is a ton of promise, and these sites are trying to take risks, which is always a good sign.

Amazon Prime originally released pilots of several shows, and viewers were asked which ones they wanted to see entire seasons of. Alpha House and Betas made the cut.

Alpha House:

This half-hour satirical comedy was created by Doonesbury's Garry Trudeau, and stars John Goodman as a Republican senator from North Carolina who lives in a house with several other GOP senators in Washington, D.C. Hilarity allegedly ensues. But the only laughs I got from this show was from a cameo by Stephen Colbert. Simply watching the right wing be idiotic isn't exactly groundbreaking TV. The first three episodes are free, but after that you have to pay if you want to keep watching. Since there's no compelling backstory to pull us in, there is no way in hell most people are going to do that. Amazon made a big to-do about how this show was its most-watched after it debuted, but it didn't differentiate between the free episodes and the rest of the season, so there's no way of knowing if my theory will hold true.

Betas: Great concept, great pilot, great cast. Four young dorks are trying to get their social networking start-up off the ground in San Francisco, and the writing is witty and fresh, with just the right dash of pop-culture allusions. “He's about one Bjork reference away from strumming her flying V,” says Hobbes (played by Jon Daly) about the office's resident lothario douchebag. By the second episode things start to slow way down though, and the laughs drop off precipitously by the third. In a nutshell: I would watch this series if it was free, but I am not going to pay to see the rest of it.

Meanwhile, for an Internet entity that has been around for as long as Yahoo has, it sure makes it hard to find its original content, called Y Screen, on its main page. I had to Google the names of the shows to find them. Then, once I got to the pages, I couldn't figure out how to find the first episodes or even hit “full screen.” Epic fail, Marissa Mayer. Still, I did find two worth a look:

Ghost Ghirls:

I thought this show would be a train wreck, but holy shit, is it ever funny, probably because Jack Black and the folks from Drunk History

are behind it. Two cute yet indolent dipshits (think “Marina girl” types) are ghost hunters and show up wherever there's paranormal activity to investigate. Each zippy show runs no longer than 12 minutes, and the comedic timing of the two stars, Maria Blasucci as Angelica and Amanda Lund as Heidi, is superb. They also possess enough heart to keep viewers watching even after the dingbat shtick gets old, which it undoubtedly will.

Electric City: This anime-inspired post-apocalyptic cartoon is apparently the brainchild of Tom Hanks, for some bizarre reason, and is indeed beautifully drawn. It's like Mad Max, but instead of oil, the commodity is electricity. The first episode was promising enough, but my attempt to watch the second one yielded only a Spanish version (Was that intentional? Who knows, it's supposedly a “groundbreaking” series, so…). Then I couldn't find episodes 3 or 4, only 5 and 6.

It's almost like Comcast is running the joint.

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