Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Backwash (the show, not the stuff)

So remember how I sometimes write for other websites? Well here's my latest column at Digiday Daily, which I think is better than usual, and you should totally read and comment on. Or I'll just repost it here.

Crackle.com has launched its new webseries Backwash, and thanks to regular cameos from high-profile stars ranging from Jon Hamm to Sarah Silverman to John Stamos, along with clever writing and a fun concept, it’s likely we’re looking at the platform’s newest hit.

Joshua Malina is well known on the small screen thanks to his regular roles on past TV successes Sports Night and The West Wing. More recently he’s been popping up in guest starring appearances on various broadcast shows like Bones and Grey’s Anatomy. However he’s no longer the staple TV presence he once was. It’s no doubt Malina is a comedic talent (although most of his TV work happens to be in dramas), and anyone who’s been following his Twitter feed over the past year would likely agree. I’d go so far as to venture that he’s one of the most entertaining comedians on Twitter now – proving that in addition to his acting, he’s got writing chops as well – at least when it comes to bursts of 140 character creativity.
You're totally into it right? Okay keep reading!
Now we get to see the full extent of Malina’s talents as a writer, as he has turned to the even-smaller-screen for his newest venture – a webseries he wrote, produced, and stars in for Crackle.com. Backwash is a delightful and zany comedy that really showcases Malina’s writing talent for the first time in an extended format – a savvy business move for an actor trying to make a bigger splash in the writing world. As is often the case, the web is an excellent showcase for fresh talent, or as an area to experiment with new ideas. Web content can often play by different rules than that of TV, so it’s truly an excellent platform for Malina’s show and for Malina himself to take risks he might not have been able to do elsewhere.

But before we analyze the new show and its implications for branded content, first we must ask, what is Backwash? (Other than, you know, the gross stuff at the end of a drink). As Malina explained on his blog for Crackle back in March, “loosely put, it's the story of three eccentric losers and the mayhem that ensues after they inadvertently rob a bank armed only with a salami in a sweat-sock.” Better yet, check out the first episode of Backwash, titled “Val and Jonesy”.

As the first episode reveals, the comedy of Backwash is smart, quirky, and self-referential – making it perfectly suited for the web. Considering Malina has been developing the project for several years, it’s nice to see the series finally has a suitable home.

One of the highlights of the show is that each episode promises a new host, all of them recognizable names. Personally, I loved Hank Azaria in episode two, and his delivery of the line “Yes, I lost a bet” (you’ll just have to watch it to see what I mean) and I’m especially looking forward to John Stamos pop up on a future episode wearing a mullet wig reminiscent of his days on Full House. Interestingly, this sort of string of A-list talent is something that on a normal TV show might be considered stunt casting, but with a web series it only bolsters the show’s appeal. This has been especially evident with the series’ marketing campaign and overall launch. Similar to a movie, Backwash had a full scale Hollywood red-carpet premiere and it’s been regularly showcase on various news outlets – those that are both web specific, but also sites that usually don’t cover branded online content. Clearly Crackle is taking advantage of Malina (and his co-stars) more mainstream appeal.

Backwash is poised to be Crackle’s newest success story – assuming that page views maintain throughout the course of the series. This could have some interesting implications for the future of web content – first of all, similar to the transition many film actors made from features to television shows, don’t be surprised if we see more and more recognizable names writing, producing and starring in shows for the online space. It’s certainly been the trend with web content over the past few years – however Backwash really strikes me as one of the first times a web series launch has been given nearly as much focus as that of say, a cable television show. 

What I’m most curious to see is whether or not Backwash, like many other web series of its ilk, attempts to make the leap from the very small screen of the internet to the slightly larger screen of our TVs. (Which would be an ironic end to the show’s lengthy development process, especially as Malina reconceived the content for the web specifically after it was suggested he steer away from television). Of course that depends on the level of success and the producers’ intentions – personally I’d love to see Backwash remain as a web series, as this would only offer further evidence as to why the web is such a great place for content creators to test the waters and try unconventional methods of production to deliver high-quality original programming.

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