At this point, any respectable genre fan can quickly rattle off the names of several popular web series. The Guild. Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Chad Vader: Day Shift Manager. Legend of Neil. And on and on and on. As great as all of those are, they have either serious star power or some big deal website sponsoring and/or funding them. But what of the little guys out there who are struggling to get their creative (and decidedly nerdy) visions realized through Kickstarter, Indiegogo or other crowd-funding options?
Today’s Daily List is all about the underdogs. The ten web series’ that are featured here may not be household names yet but they all are clever and well-made. Since my picks are subjective, and because there are thousands of indie series’ created by non-professionals floating around on the Internet, some of your favorites are certain to be missing from this list. So be sure to name your picks in the comments. That said, here’s an assortment of web programs that are short on recognition and cash-flow but huge on entertainment. Let’s take a look.
10) Transolar GalacticaSci-fi comedy is a tricky game. For every Red Dwarf or Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy there are a thousand Homeboys in Outer Space and Hyperdrives. So the fact that Transolar Galactica fuses the two genres so perfectly on a limited budget is something truly special indeed. Chronicling the adventures of egotistical starship Captain Remmington Trigger, the series pokes fun at familiar sci-fi tropes — a hero with a Derek Wildstar-esque tragic past, J.J. Abrams’ love for lens flares taken to a ridiculous extreme, etc — as it slowly engages in some universe building of its own. It’s easy enough to coast by on adventure and humor, yet this series ups the creative ante by featuring some genuinely lovable characters. (Including Yasaki, the helmsman/audience surrogate who finds himself frequently questioning the captain’s logic-defying orders). Transolar Galactica‘s first season of ten episodes was recently picked up by Funny or Die, so you can expect to hear much more about this interstellar comedy in the future.
9) Assignment: Unexplained? We live in a world where there is a reality TV show called Finding Bigfoot in which four grown-ass adults go in search of Sasquatch. For reals. Flip through the channels these days and you’ll find a cottage industry of shows looking to profit from America’s fascination with all things cryptozoological/paranormal. It was only a matter of time before Ghost Hunters and its TV brethren got what’s coming to them. Therefore in the spirit of Bullshit or Not? I present to you Assignment: Unexplained? This web series follows a squad of paranormal researchers as they set out to “investigate the uninvestigatable.” As you can see from the above video, you wouldn’t really want to goofballs from AU helping with solving your haunting. Still, regardless of their dubious scientific techniques you’ve got to admit that watching their antics is way more entertaining than the TAPS crew analyzing yet another bit of unintelligible white noise. 8) Standard Action Bored of the rings? Then get yourself some Standard Action. Created, co-written by and co-starring Canadian Joanna Gaskell (as Edda, the world’s least bloodthirsty barbarian), this comedy/fantasy series for Dungeons and Dragons fanatics has found itself frequently compared to The Guild. However, before you dismiss it as the Go-Bots to that series’ Transformers, you should see how it succeeds at creating a comedic saving throw for those yearning for RPG-based humor. Making the most of Vancouver’s otherworldly locales, the series — which has featured 13 episodes and one special to date — presents its laughs with a side order of lush cinematography, resulting in Standard Action being the most visually pleasing entry on this list. It should probably be said that non-D&D lovers will enjoy this as well…just not as much as their TSR-worshipping peers. 7) The Silent City Speaking of beautifully shot series’, The Silent City is a gorgeous look at post-apocalyptic isolation that is filmed in and around some of New York City’s abandoned wonders. (Fans of Forgotten New York, take note). Set a decade after humanity was wiped out by a as of-yet unexplained calamity, the series focuses on a nomadic man as he wanders around the Big Apple in an effort to stay alive. There have only been two episodes of the series so far, each building palpable dread in a manner which The Walking Dead has yet to achieve. Because of the lack of characters the episodes are largely dialogue-free, leaving lead actor Eric Stafford to rely on body movement and facial expressions to convey his feelings. It’s the sort of compelling performance that can turn an unknown into a cult sensation. Rumor has it that zombies will eventually make their way into the show, a prospect that I feel ambivalent about given how ubiquitous the undead are elsewhere in popular culture. Up to this point the series has been a tone poem about desolation and despair. Maybe I shouldn’t panic yet. Something tells me that once brain-eaters are thrown into the mix the plot developments will be handled with the same elegance that is quickly becoming The Silent City‘s hallmark.
6) Awkward Embraces “Nerdy girls need love too.” No, it’s not the name of a particularly clever Samantha Fox parody song, but rather the motto of Awkward Embraces. Best described as what Girls would be like if it had a main character who worshiped Star Trek instead of Sex and the City, the web series chronicles the romantic misadventures of Los Angeles single nerdess Jessica and her (slightly) less hopeless pals Lyndsey and Candis. If you are looking strictly for Big Bang Theory-style nerdery, look elsewhere. Although Awkward Embraces has plenty of that, at its heart it is primarily about friendship in our brave new post-nerd world. Check out the first two seasons here.
5) Truncated So far, the entries on this list have been elaborate affairs that feature actors, location shooting and lots and lots of money. In the interest of fairness, let’s kick off the top five with an entry that is low on production value..but still high on laughs.Truncated ruthlessly slaughters sacred cows of the videogame industry in roughly minute-long takedowns that can teach Mr. Plinkett a thing or two about brevity. The ongoing series — created by blogger Paw Dugan — has already taken on classics like Kid Icarus, Castlevania and Mega Man. Even if he’s far too harsh on your retro favorites, you’ll probably be laughing too hard to care.
4) Tron: Reboot Tron and Tron: Legacy make the world inside Encom’s computer grid look like a pretty fun (yet admittedly dangerous) place to be. One thing that has yet to be addressed by the films is what the day-to-day life of a program who lives inside this electronic wonderland is like. If Tron: Reboot is anything to go by, it’s pretty monotonous. The brainchild of Ben Hansford, Michael Faradie and Daniel Thron, the series features chubby program Dongle dealing with frustrations both off and on the game grid. Each of these brief shorts perfectly captures the look and feel of Steven Lisberger’s visionary sci-fi film…with a bit of the tedium of daily life thrown in for good measure. The series also acknowledges that the original Tron was somewhat goofy as well. So is Tron: Reboot a reverent valentine or a complete spoof? I’ll leave that for you to decide. End of line.
3) The Dark Knight Chronicles After watching the three episodes of The Dark Knight Chronicles that have been produced so far, I desperately want there to be a regular Batman comic written by Ben Edlund. You see, Luke Neumann and Hannah Brink’s parody of the Nolanverse casts the Dark Knight as a ADHD-suffering doofus who is more than just a little reminiscent of the Tick. In these adventures, he and a long-suffering Commissioner Gordon team up to stop a foe called the Nutria King who wouldn’t be out of place in the 1960s TV series. Like most parodies of Christian Bale’s Batman, this series gets plenty of comedic mileage out of the Caped Crusader’s guttural howl of a voice. That bit of nonsense paired with Neumann’s ever manic performance as Batman and some truly inspired facial expressions make The Dark Knight Chronicles the comedy series we need, but, well, you know.
2) Transylvania Television Transylvania Television is the greatest show ever to come out of Minneapolis that isn’t Mystery Science Theater 3000. The spooky and/or kooky web series follows a group of monstrous puppets who run a low-budget TV station. Like Avenue Q, Team America, and Crank Yankers before it, the show is quite definitely adult-themed. (Sample episode title: “Dark Night of the Ejaculatron”). Full disclosure: As much as I enjoy the series due to its cute puppets, great voice talent and witty scripts, I must admit that its inclusion of a ginger Bigfoot that is my doppelganger may have clouded my judgement somewhat. In other words, your mileage may vary.
1) Star Trek: New Voyages/Phase II It looks like space wasn’t the final frontier after all. Long before J.J. Abrams ever met Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, longtime Star Trek fans Jack Marshall and James Cawley had the ballsy idea to recast Kirk and Spock and continue the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Their commitment to this controversial idea resulted in Star Trek: New Voyages, the most famous (infamous?) of all web series. Since debuting in 2003, the low-budget and often cheesetastic series has featured the participation of Trek veterans — including George Takei, Walter Koenig and Denise Crosby. True, the series will never be considered canon and is largely ignored by Paramount, but it is nevertheless a fun continuation of Gene Roddenberry’s eternal five-year mission. (A few years ago, this was rechristened Star Trek: Phase II after the proposed follow-up series that was rejected in favor of Star Trek: The Motion Picture). Arguably the series’ most notable moment to date came with the filming of David Gerrold’s “Blood and Fire,” a script that was deemed too controversial for Star Trek: The Next Generation because it was an allegory for the AIDS crisis. Bringing long dead Trek scripts back to life? I’d like to see your fan fiction try to pull off such a feat. Even with sometimes dubious acting production values, this one still takes the top spot thanks to longevity and keeping Roddenberry’s hopeful dream for a better tomorrow alive. Plus, that Takei episode is just damn good fun.
Chris Cummins is a pop culture writer and Archie comics historian who has contributed to The Robot's Voice, Den of Geek US, Philebrity, Geekadelphia, Uproxx, and Unicorn Booty. He is the co-producer and co-host of Nerd Nite Philadelphia, and is regularly involved in producing and hosting New York Super Week events. In 2014, Chris began Sci-Fi Explosion, a mix of live performance, trivia and funny clips celebrating the weirdest in science fiction that regularly travels around the United States. He wrote the introductions to the compilations Archie's Favorite Comics From The Vault and (with Paul Castiglia) Archie's Favorite High School Stories. You can find Chris on Twitter at @bionicbigfoot and @scifiexplosion.