Hello readers, loyal and disloyal alike, to the fourth edition of Lydia’s Channel 101 Reviews! The September 2018 screening came with a very strong crop of new pilots that all finished with at least a hundred votes. Drinks were shared, hearts were betrayed, and aliens descended on the earth by at least two completely different methods.
September also saw the release of the first episode of Brad Gage and Nick Hurley‘s new Channel 101 podcast! For the first episode they interviewed David Seger, recipient of the 2017 Channel 101 Lifetime Achievement Award, and co-creator of several classic shows such as Making Mistakes, Ikea Heights, and Car-Jumper – as well as one of my all-time favourite failed pilots, Hi, I Killed The World. The podcast also asked important questions, like if I, Lydia, am a real person, or if I’m just a fake account created by Alex Kavutskiy. Well, would a fake account change the subject immediately?
I know I’ve only been putting these online for a few months, but it’s been a year now since I first started writing the first draft of what would eventually become this review blog. Over the course of my life, I haven’t had a great record of following through with my ideas for things, so I just want to thank everyone who has been reading the words that I write, everyone who has been spreading conspiracy theories about my identity, and everyone who has been putting fictionalized versions of me in their 101 shows, for making me feel the pressure to finish the things I start.
10th place – Cera’s Acting Lessons, Ep. 2 [Created by Candace Carrizales]
Cera’s very own homemade acting lessons continue in the backyard with a lesson in stage combat. Along with sparring partner Clam (Chelsea Morgan), Cera teaches us everything I wish I knew when I was in middle school making a terrible cop show with my friend’s dad’s camcorder. Their technique is hilariously amateur, and the sound effects added in post are spot-on, but it’s also a bit of a one-note premise being asked to fill five minutes. This episode might have benefited from taking the occasional step outside the instructional format to give us more moments with the characters: glimpses into the making of the video, or into the relationship between Cera and her friend with the awesome three wolf moon shirt.
9th place – Ken & Renee, Ep. 2 [Created by Alex Opdam]
Last month I said I didn’t get it when the slow-paced Ken and Renee finished third with the audience. Well, this month the dysfunctional Aussie couple finished ninth, and I have to say, I don’t get that either. This episode has so much more to recommend it: more jokes, better jokes, more character exposition, and a more engaging story. The plot goes like this: Renee is working a phone sex line, which annoys Ken, who is trying to build his own business. There’s a bit of gratuitous profanity and sex, but for the most part the profanity and sex is important to the story: just how I like it. This is the animated sitcom setup I was hoping the first episode would be. Bonus joke: not sure if I was supposed to laugh at this, but I thought it was funny when Ken knocked the phone out of the other guy’s hand and the perspective made it look like Ken’s arms were twelve feet long. K&R fans can find a third episode (technically a pre-101 first episode!) on Alex Opdam’s YouTube page.
8th place – The Credits, Ep. 3 [Created by Paul Isakson and Brad Gage]
In his interview for the Channel 101 podcast, David Seger says that for a while, all the shows in Prime Time were following the tried-and-true Dan Harmon Story Circle, and Seger was interested to see the different ways that creators started breaking away from that form, while still making something that was a cohesive show. The Credits did just that, breaking new ground with its format of self-contained film homages in miniature. This final episode takes on the conversational stylings of Tarantino-brand exposition, crediting three different actors as different iterations of Quentin himself, as well as two Vince Vaughns. Nick Hurley (as one of the Vaughns) stood out as the one most likely to blend in at a real Tarantino table, and his bit where he talks only in questions may have been my favourite joke of the whole screening. All the assorted pop culture references in this one got a bit messy, but the visuals captured the mood and the era perfectly. In fact, every episode of the Credits has had some of the best cinematography I’ve ever seen at Channel 101. Colour me surprised this one won’t be coming back in October.
7th place – Project T.O.D.D. [Created by Christina Parrish, Carl Stoneking, Alex Ybarra, and Kyle Sweeney]
In this pilot, an alien observes life on earth through the body of a high school student named Todd. The opening scene and exposition is insane in the best possible way, mixing a twisted take on the early 2000s Disney Channel aesthetic with a zany plot setup and heavy use of green-screen in the tradition of 101 classics The Mountain and The Curious Happenings About George Warrior. This concept had a lot of potential, but unfortunately T.O.D.D. relaxes a little too far into high school drama tropes, backing away from its inherent wackiness and relegating the green-screen to showing us school and home interior scenes when we could be literally anywhere in the universe. Still, a great effort from these first-time 101 creators, and I hope we see them again soon!
6th place – Kitchen Women [Created by Danielle Puterbaugh and Tiffany Puterbaugh]
Two housewives from Eisenhower’s America share a chat and a morning drink called ‘breakfast’ that looks strong enough to sedate a fully-grown woolly mammoth. This one’s kinda short: it’s under three minutes, including a thirty-second end-credits montage. (“What is this, The Credits? What am I, making a callback joke?”) The whole tone of the pilot shifts at the montage, and it would have been interesting to see the show go back and forth between those two extremes, instead of simply ending. There’s some good writing in this one, even if it’s a little ironic and self-aware for my taste. Ultimately I felt Kitchen Women wasn’t developed far enough, though it only missed Prime Time by two votes.
5th place – Wave Race 64: The Series, Ep. 1 [Created by Andy Petruzzo]
Hey look, it’s a show based on a video game, which is maybe a first for Channel 101? All I could find were shows based on non–video games, and this 2008 pilot about the invention of video games that features – who would have thought? – more Eisenhower references! Wave Race 64: the Series appears to take some liberties with its source material, although I admit I’ve never played the game (ours was exclusively a Diddy Kong Racing household). This pilot also draws heavy influence from Baywatch, which I guess is why two of our three main characters spend pretty much the entire episode attached at the pelvis. We don’t learn much else about those two characters, and they’re honestly a little useless. But that’s okay, because we have Curtis Schlaufman as Lawrence, the straight-laced and loud-mouthed commander, to take care of business. Schlaufman’s performance, which channels a combination of Andy Samberg and Homestar Runner’s Crack Stuntman, is by far the best part of the episode, so it’s a shame that – and I’m kind of tiptoeing past spoilers here – there’s a fair chance he won’t be appearing in the next one. Wave Race is all action and zero subtlety, lots of gunfire and no apologies.
4th place – ;), Ep. 1 [Created by Mike McCafferty]
Mike McCafferty is a genre unto himself. There’s no established way to pronounce the winking emoticon that is title of his latest show, but in the spirit of the band ‘!!!‘ (pronounced ‘chk-chk-chk’), I’ve decided that in spoken conversation I will refer to this show by winking while making a lateral click sound. 😉 tells the story of a man who comes to stay with a family of animojis. For those unfamiliar, an animoji is a camera filter effect, available on some smartphones, that places an emoji-style head over the head of the subject. The animoji head moves and emotes to match the subject: this allows McCafferty to perform all the roles in 😉 by simply changing shirts and animoji heads. In the world of 😉 the animojis appear to be a different race or species – one of many questions asked and not yet answered in this mysterious first episode. There are a few video and audio quirks to the show that may be unavoidable because of the mechanics of animojis, who require a vertical aspect ratio, and can freeze up in dim lighting. But in all, the contrast between the flatly serious drama of McCafferty’s performances and the absurdity of the visuals made this one of my favourite pilots all year, and I can’t wait to see this story play out.
3rd place – Y2K Babes, Ep. 1 [Created by Jaden LeBel]
First-time 101 creator LeBel debuts at number three with feminist sketch show Y2K Babes. Over the course of three scenes we meet three heroines taking on the struggles of modern life, with comedy that feels fresh and relevant to the social and political moment, if I’m not too old to say so. The writing is smart, and leans into its own shortcomings: namely, its excessive focus on dating, and a scene that is meta for no reason. Call that lampshading if you want. Call the Mudman just some dude with peanut butter and kale all over his torso. I still laughed, and I still did the whole peanut butter and kale thing back when I had a vegan girlfriend. We’ve come a long way since Scott Chernoff joked, ‘This is Channel 101 business, no girls allowed!‘ thirteen years ago.
2nd place – Wednesday Morning Cartoons, Ep. 3 [Created by Tyler March and Eric Paperth]
WMC is now three-for-three on awesome theme songs – and for the record, I would not mind one bit if March and Paperth made a pilot that was five minutes of nothing but theme songs. Anyway, episode 3 is titled ‘Grandma’s On the Improv Team’, which continues this trend in my life where everything I know about improv comedy I learned from animated shows making jokes about improv comedy. Most of the jokes in this one are derived from stereotypes about the elderly being mentally feeble and incontinent, and if you think phrasing it that way sucked all the joy out of it, well, that’s a preview of how you’ll feel about this episode when you’re fifty. There is some good writing and comedic timing here, I just feel like it’s wasted on a worn-out concept. This one was more fun to watch in the video of the live screening, where I could hear the audience reacting along with me, and with that audience energy I’m not surprised this one finished second. Still, I didn’t find Grandma as funny or creative as August’s Stove.
1st place – Alex Kavutskiy’s Guide to Filmmaking, Ep. 5 [Created by Alex Kavutskiy]
Holy crow medicine show, I was not ready for this. I’ve heard of Alex Kavutskiy’s Guide to Filmmaking, but Alex Kavutskiy’s Guide to Shameless Critic Pandering? This multi-story parfait of an episode felt like it was made just for me, and it kind of was: Kavutskiy told me he decided to make a body-switching episode after I mentioned my love for the 2009 two-episode run of Switcharoo. So, look, I’m not going to be shy about this, I thought this episode was the greatest thing ever. And I’ll concede that’s partly because I understood all the inside references – I sent this episode to a couple friends who aren’t into Channel 101, and they weren’t as crazy about it. So sure, this isn’t the show for everyone, but it’s not just me either: the live audience liked it enough to vote it into first place. Inside jokes and self-inserts aside, episode 5 of the Guide is a brilliant piece of writing that deserves the top grade that it gives itself. And hey – if I don’t give an A+ to the show where I am literally on screen giving the show an A+ (and inhabiting the body Budd Diaz, who honestly is closer to my body type than Kelsy Abbott) then when am I going to give a show an A+?
1st: Alex Kavutskiy’s Guide to Filmmaking, Ep. 5 (A+)
2nd: ;), Ep. 1 (A)
3rd: Y2K Babes, Ep. 1 (A-)
4th: The Credits, Ep. 3 (A-)
5th: Ken & Renee, Ep. 2 (B+)
6th: Project T.O.D.D. (B)
7th: Wave Race 64: The Series, Ep. 1 (B-)
8th: Cera’s Acting Lessons, Ep. 2 (B-)
9th: Kitchen Women (C+)
10th: Wednesday Morning Cartoons, Ep. 3 (C)
Assorted final notes:
-As long as nothing is missing from his credits page on the website, it looks like Sandeep Parikh‘s appearance in The Credits this month is his first Channel 101 work since 2006’s Raptor.
-There were some anagram-based jokes in the first draft of these reviews that I left on the cutting room floor, but it’s worth mentioning that there are some fantastic anagrams you can build from Chelsea Morgan’s name: ‘Some Archangel’, ‘Macho Generals’, ‘Granola Scheme’, ‘Megan’s Cholera’, ‘Eagle Monarchs’, ‘Chameleon Rags’, ‘Chrome Lasagne’, and even ‘Camera Lens Hog’. And yes, there’s even more where that came from.
-We had three animated female characters voiced by men this month, a trend I blame mostly on Linda Belcher. This is my tiny soapbox where I’m going to remind everyone that female voice actors exist. I’ll even do your dang voice acting, hit me up.
-Since people are still talking about it, and I have both an opinion and a platform to share said opinion, here we go: is Wave Race 64: The Series misogynist? I appreciate the people from the Wave Race team who came forward to talk about the show and the efforts the team made to be inclusive and consensual at all levels. That’s great to hear, and I hope that way of operating trickles upward into the void where Harvey Weinstein once stood. That said, I did feel there was an implicit misogyny in Wave Race – it wasn’t any specific line, it was the way the whole show operated within this assumed patriarchal framework where women are an accessory. I realize it’s a parody of a genre where a lot of misogyny happened, but I think KP Parker nailed it when she said, “A good parody heightens the absurd and subverts the bad. The role of sexy brainless woman wasn’t subverted, it was honored.” If you can’t imagine how someone could hold that opinion, remember that each person has their own individual experience of each piece of art and entertainment, informed by a unique perspective and set of past experiences. As for me, I can’t fathom why anyone wouldn’t have voted for Typesetter’s Son after that phenomenal second episode, but the fact is, more than half the audience didn’t vote for it, and all I can do is accept that, try to understand their views, and do my best to communicate my own views in a respectful manner. Okay, are we still friends? See you in a month? Cool.
Screening date: 29 September 2018
This review published: 5 October 2018