Comics take a coffee break
Big names are launching their own shows on digital TV, writes
AS a new wave of big names enters the growing field of web series, leave it to Larry David to keep enthusiasm in check. ‘‘I wouldn’t say I’m excited, but I’m looking forward to it,’’ David says at the start of Jerry Seinfeld’s new series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.
The concept of the show is exceptionally simple: Seinfeld picks up a comedian friend in a vintage car, and they get some coffee.
David, the co-creator of Seinfeld, appropriately concludes: ‘‘You have finally done the show about nothing.’’
In the latest batch of notable series to launch online, long-harboured ambitions find digital outlets: Seinfeld does nothing, Tom Hanks plays a hero, Larry King keeps his suspenders in action.
Their new series – Larry King Now on Hulu, Hanks’s Electric City on Yahoo, Comedians in Cars on its own website – are part of the latest stage in the evolution of digital television.
Though none is exactly must-see TV, each has its charms.
Comedians in Cars is the most promising. Only one episode has run, the 13-minute Larry Eats a Pancake, but others featuring Ricky Gervais, Alec Baldwin, Michael Richards and others are set to premiere on comediansincarsgettingcoffee.com and crackle.com
The series is an argument for leisure. Seinfeld extols the virtues and necessity of laziness to ‘‘the comedian mindset’’. And when Seinfeld and David get together – as they did for David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm reunion of the Seinfeld cast in 2009 – their ease with one another is a joy to behold.
Indeed, the best aspect of the debut episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is to see the two in their natural habitat, laughing far more than they would ever allow their deadpans to do on TV.
At one point, a chortling David spits out his herbal tea (he makes a minor protest over the coffee ritual) after Seinfeld uses the word ‘‘debauched’’.
‘‘It’s a miracle we ever got any work done because nobody can waste time like you and me,’’ Seinfeld says to David.
Chatting comedians are seemingly everywhere these days – the creme de la creme being Marc Maron’s remarkable podcast.
Still, the chance to see two comedy greats huddled in a 1952 Volkswagen bug is hard to resist.
Larry King Now, too, depends on the appeal of conversation. King interviews entertainers Matthew McConaughey, Seth MacFarlane and George Lopez in the semiretired comfort of his own home.
But the steady patter of the 78-year-old’s questioning hasn’t changed. He’s still a congenial, entertaining interviewer, albeit without much reason for journalistic prodding.King created the series with the new digital network Ora TV. Four 20-to25-minute episodes a week air on internet broadcaster Hulu.
An episode with Betty White charmingly concludes with the pair selling lemonade on King’s front lawn to passing celebrity tour buses. In the developing digital landscape, the two TV old-timers are just kids. ‘‘This is a whole new world for us, Betty,’’ King tells White, 90.
With the animated Electric City, Hanks has created a new world.
The actor had the idea for it nearly eight years ago, envisioning a settled dystopia in a post-apocalyptic society.
Figuring out how to make it – and for whom – proved a challenge.
Hanks shopped the idea to networks and studios, and contemplated making it with marionettes. He finally settled on a cheap animated series, produced by Indian media company Reliance Entertainment, with his own production company, Playtone.
In advance of its debut last week, Electric City was trumpeted as a prime example of the latest push into original programing, alongside efforts from Netflix, Hulu and YouTube.
But as is often the case with digital series, the hype outpaced the show’s quality, which is dragged down by mediocre production value and a muddled purpose.
The 20 episodes of five minutes are awkward bite-sized helpings of a story that strives for long-form ambiguity and seriousness.
Electric City does conjure an enjoyable atmosphere (the ominous score by Leo Z and Ali Noori helps), one that the creators have attempted to make immersive with various interactive components.
But the internet is not good at being immersive.
Even if a show is compelling, countless options are a click away. A distracted audience is inevitable if they’re watching on computers and mobile phones.
This, and making any money, are the biggest problems for original digital series.
These three experimenters – Hanks, Seinfeld and King – have done all right for themselves. These projects could all be classified in the vanity variety. None of them are expecting a big pay cheque here.
Even if the dollars aren’t there yet and the content isn’t always superior, it’s surely a milestone when one of America’s most favourite movie stars, one of its most beloved comedians and one of its signature news anchors are all opting for the web. The platform is there. The machinery to launch, promote and distribute these series is clearly in place.
The future – one kind or another – is online.
Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David; (below) a scene from