The NOT! Show: Prematurely Exhuming the Lead

Brandon Moviemaking, Webseries Theories

*THIS POST IS RE-PUBLISHED FROM WEBSERIESTHEORIES.COM, A FORMER BLOG OF MINE.

Approaching analysis of Tim Devitt’s NOT! webseries, I was immediately struck by the show’s situational structure. Tagged, “a webseries about dating”, NOT! presents its premise as:

There are bad dates, disastrous dates, revolting dates, and then there are the NOT! dates, the worst of the worst. These are the profile pictures too good to be true, and weren’t. The men you should not have had coffee with, never mind sex. The women you should never have let into your life. Each week, meet a new couple NOT! meant for each other.

Contemplating Devitt’s show from a producer’s viewpoint, I find the format to be inspired. When setting out to produce a serial webseries on a shoestring budget, creators are faced with the challenge of convincing cast and crew to commit to weeks of rehearsing, filming, possible post-production duties, like ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement, also called Dubbing) or promotional efforts. Often, in the webseries community, they are expected to do this for little or no pay. For any creator, the task presents a monumental challenge. Devitt manages to circumvent many of those obstacles, providing himself flexibility of concept and allowing each installment a completely new scenario, cast, and location. When certain people and resources aren’t available, the show must go on, and NOT!’s concept sustains, allowing creators to work with what they got.

Ingenious logistically, but NOT!’s format must also hold in entertainment value. Devitt structures each episode, immersing the viewer in often the most awkward, if not horrifying, of dating situations. Most episodes are one note, all action and comedy deriving, primarily, from the situation rather than the characters or narrative. It is situational comedy, which anyone who grew up in the prime of NBC’s Must See TV programming can appreciate. NOT!’s comedic situations range from mildy amusing, to downright hysterical, all the way to the utterly bizarre with the goal of delivering on each situation’s wide variety of available punchlines.

But too often, NOT! falls short. In journalism, failing to mention the most interesting or attention grabbing part of a story in the first paragraph is often called “burying the lead”. Interestingly, NOT! doesn’t bury the lead, but instead does the opposite. I wish I was clever enough to come up with a phrase more punchy than prematurely exhuming the lead, but I’m not and that’s what NOT! does. NOT!’s structure presents the situation upfront, which would be perfectly fine, if the situation were not also the punchline.

For instance, in the episode, called Head Department, Tony presents the precondition that Sandra, his coffee date, be able to give great oral sex. That’s the joke. NOT! presents the condition a minute and a half into the five minute episode and attempts to live in the awkward resolution of the joke for the resulting three and a half minutes. The creative attempt calls to mind the awkward comedy style utilized by the network show, The Office, but doesn’t deliver on the same level. Instead, the situation drags out with a less powerful resolution, expounding awkwardly, yes, but providing very little in the way of new jokes.

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Instead of laughing on first viewing of NOT!’s full run, I found myself identifying technical errors, like close ups not in portrait, also referred to as the Two Eye Rule: when framing a scene in shot-reverse shot, we want to see both eyes, providing a balanced composition, which is more pleasing to the viewer and risks less chance of your viewer escaping the illusion presented by your work, which is all the more important in a comedy. Occasionally, NOT! utilizes a profile reaction shot, which distracts from the scene rather than providing the desired emotional resonance.

But I wouldn’t have noticed these errors had there not been a deeper issue. I turned to what initially caught my attention, NOT!’s format, a perk, which upon second consideration, also appeared at fault. NOT! focuses on situation and instead of embracing that situation as the joke, NOT! sources it as inspiration for the jokes, which normally in longer forms can work, but not here.

Though web video creators are starting to experiment with longer formats, the web’s bread and butter still lives in short punchy content. NOT! episodes would benefit from a shorter runtime, as well as, flipping the joke structure. Instead of revealing the situation upfront, bury the lead, and end with the reveal or pay off, depending on the situation. Look to the long running and successful YouTube channel, Elevator Show. Elevator Show’s runtimes average around 1:30 and usually build towards a situational reveal:

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When they extend the gag, they get out early:

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For me, these adjustments prove themselves to work, when looking at NOT!’s strongest episode, which also happens to be the shortest and the one that deviates in situation the most:

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Currently the NOT! show is syndicating on Koldcast TV. Check out more episodes there. Of course, you can see their entire first season on their youtube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/TheNotShow.