Comics take a cof­fee break

Big names are launch­ing their own shows on dig­i­tal TV, writes

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - TELEVISION -

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 co­me­di­ansin­car­s­get­ting­cof­ and

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

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