Monday, October 29, 2012

Review: 'The Book Club'

Network television can be frustrating for viewers.  All you want to do is watch your favorite shows, right?  You don't care about budgets or contract negotiations or outdated Nielsen ratings or corporate suits throwing their two cents in.  Shows get canceled and delayed and moved and sometimes it seems like they're deliberately making it difficult for you to watch.  But there have been some huge changes over the past few years when it comes from this.  Netflix picked up the critical darling but ratings disaster Arrested Development.  The equipment and tools to make full fledged shows has become more ubiquitous and platforms like YouTube means distribution is a cinch.  And even better, as a viewer, once it's posted online you can catch up on it whenever and, these days, wherever you want.  These smaller productions often have heart and energy because their crews know they really have to work to keep them going instead of falling back on a corporate backer, and they are often purer, more creative expressions since they are in control of their own product.

That super long buildup is to introduce The Book Club, a web series brought to you by the YOMYOMF Network and executive producer Jeremy Justin Lin (from the Fast & Furious movies; I think you’re obligated to say that in any writeup about him).  It stars Community’s Danny Pudi, Parvesh Cheena of Outsourced, Thomas Fowler from 2 Broke Girls, and Chris Marrs from Hot in Cleveland as the eponymous book club.  Because what’s wrong with a group of bros talking literature?  This mundane activity leads to shenanigans (as they often do) in six tangentially related short episodes.

It looks like the cast and crew had a blast creating this series, and it shows throughout.  From the first episode’s kung-fu action to the Enemy of the State-inspired spy thriller to the horror movie plot to the ‘80s movie pastiche (complete with montage sequence, of course) each episode has its own feel and related jokes but they're all equally anchored with solid dialogue, great characters, and general hilarity.  With all of the episodes clocking in at under ten minutes apiece you’d think they’d feel rushed, but the pacing works well and you’ll never feel cheated out of a story.  Throw in some great cameos by Pudi’s Community costar Gillian Jacobs and NBA funnyman Blake Griffin and you’ve got yourself six very funny episodes that you won’t mind watching over and over again.

The Book Club is out there.  Like, really out there.  Even if a network were to commit to a series about a book club (they’ve done worse...hello, Animal Practice), to see it go in the wild direction that The Book Club takes almost immediately in its first episode would be unheard of.  It’s hard to imagine anyone taking a chance on it.  And that’s why the internet is so wonderful.  This group had a vision and also had the ability to see it through, something that would have been hard to do only a few years ago.  So whether you’re waiting for Community to ever, ever, ever get back on the air or just want a sharp, bizarre comedy to kill some time with, The Book Club is definitely worth checking out.

[Note: As I'm writing this post, I get to the part talking about executive producer Justin Lin (from the Fast & Furious movies) and think, "It would be terrible if I accidentally wrote Jeremy Lin LOL."  I'm especially worried about this because with the Blake Griffin references I've got basketball on the mind.  And then...I write "Jeremy Lin" because I'm an idiot.  Thanks to Timothy Kendall for catching this and letting me bask in my own stupidity.]

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