Who needs TV when you can binge-watch top quality video content on YouTube for free?
Over the course of the last year, I’ve stumbled across a few webseries (mini-TV shows written for the web) that I’ve really enjoyed. So, the next time you are in need of binge-watching some media, I recommend checking out one of these five lesser-known YouTube webseries:
- Number of Episodes: 47 (to date)
- Average Episode Length: between 2 and 6 mins
- Initial Air Date: 25 February 2014
- Verdict: 3/5
Classic Alice follows the adventures of type-A-on-overdrive English major Alice Wrackham, who decides to live her life according to classic works of literature. As she takes on each new book—from Crime and Punishment to Macbeth—she makes decisions in her own life that mirror those of the characters, and so, the adventures begin.
This show uses a traditional talking-to-a-camera style narrative (as Alice’s close friend Andrew Prichard is using this footage for his documentary) as well as confessionals (distinct from the documentary camera), to give the audience more than one perspective of understanding the characters. While it’s unclear who’s filming the confessionals or why all the characters agree to document their more private (i.e. not-for-Alice’s ears) thoughts, it’s an interesting choice and certainly adds more nuance to the non-titular characters.
Verdict: it’s an ambitious project, especially considering that it features a large cast for a web series. While the plot was a little shaky to take off the ground at first, it’ll be interesting to see the character arcs through to the end—let’s just hope that there’s more to Alice’s character development and that all the will-they-won’t-they romantic build-up isn’t the only thing the audience can hope for with her character.
- Number of Episodes: 27
- Average Episode Length: 4 mins and 30 seconds
- Initial Air Date: 9 May 2014
- Verdict: 3/5
This show contemporizes Peter Pan imagines a world in which Peter, Wendy, and the rest of the Never Land crew face the challenges of growing up… as actual adults. It’s a sweet romantic comedy and season 1 ended with viewers very intrigued as to what lies ahead.
The storytelling technique of this show is unique as it uses Tinkerbell, Peter’s devoted fairy sidekick (though, she would probably kick your ass if you dared call her that), as one of the POV camera perspectives, to tell Peter’s (and Tinkerbell’s) side of the story when Wendy isn’t around. Wendy’s vlog gives viewers her perspective and world beyond her interactions with Peter. It’s particularly interesting to see how the viewer’s perception of the characters change as they switch between these two camera perspectives.
Also, I just loved that they adapted Tiger Lily as Lily Bagha, a CEO and corporate tycoon who can eat up just about anyone for breakfast.
Verdict: while the budding romance got a little too saccharine sweet at times, I really enjoyed watching their adaption of the rest of the characters: Wendy’s brothers, Lily, and Tinkerbell.
- Number of Episodes: 10
- Average Episode Length: 13 mins
- Initial Air Date: 2 Mar 2014
- Verdict: 3/5
If you read Americanah, you really should watch this webseries ASAP. If you haven’t read Americanah… you still should watch this web series, but you should also pick up a copy of the book. Before reading Americanah, I had yet to encounter a novel about the 21st century immigrant experience, quite as painfully honest, beautifully resonant, and as deeply funny as this novel. But, I digress.
An African City tells the story of five young African women, who’ve all recently returned to the continent after studying and working abroad. As we follow the ups and downs of Nana Yaa’s return and readjustment back to life at home, we see a lot of the challenges of an immigrant’s return playing out in their interactions.
This series is especially refreshing as it shows the glitz and glamour of urban Africa, which popular media does not otherwise share with the world very much. While some may criticize this show as not portraying what life “really” is like in urban African metropolises, I’m fiercely adamant that stories like these are celebrated.
We need more stories of what life is “really” like in developing countries. There isn’t a single story of life in a developing country—you have rich people, you have poor people, you have religious people, you have atheists, you have those who leave, and you have those who return. Unless we tell more stories about all of these different lives, we can never truly understand what life is “really” like anywhere.
Verdict: while many of the eye-roll moments that these characters scoff at clearly show their class privilege (and I do wish that the plot was less finding-a-man focused), I’m really glad that this show exists and that there are talented young African women who are getting broader exposure through this medium.
- Number of Episodes: 86
- Average Episode Length: 5 min
- Initial Air Date: 7 Oct 2013
- Verdict: 4/5
Emma Approved was produced by Pemberly Digital, the same team behind The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and in this series, they took Jane Austen’s Emma and modernized it to the 21st century. Emma is an ambitious, stylish, stubborn, and determinedly well-intentioned (albeit sometimes to disastrous end results) pioneer in lifestyle excellence. She runs a company that offers matchmaking, life coaching, and event planning services in lifestyle excellence (their slogan is the catchy, “we make YOUR life better!”).
While this show took its first two arcs to find its footing, once it hit its stride, the Pemberly team showcased what they do best: creating a compelling narrative, with strong characters in whom the audience grows very invested. Watching the core characters–Emma, Knightley, and Harriet–grow and learn and change with each narrative arc was deeply satisfying as a viewer. Particularly considering that Austen’s Emma is notorious for being the most unlikeable Austen leading lady, this Emma is nuanced, complicated, and someone the audience roots for.
In terms of this webseries’ explorations into the new media space, Emma’s lifestyle excellence blog was fun to check in on every few weeks, and this show’s focus on style and fashion meant that viewers got a gorgeous and evolving look book by the end of the show.
Verdict: Definitely worth watching end-to-end–the character arcs are well-written and well-executed by a talented team of writers and cast.
- Number of Episodes: 35
- Average Episode Length: 5 min
- Initial Air Date: 19 Aug 2014
- Verdict: 5/5
Pemberly Digital strikes again, with another brilliantly-crafted and executed webseries! Frankenstein MD reimagines Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as the story of young, brilliant, and fiercely determined Victoria Frankenstein. Victoria, a recent medical school graduate, along with her friend and lab-partner Iggy Delacey, pursue a bold new area of medical research that has the potential to change the face of the biological sciences: reviving human life.
Frankenstein MD is dark, gripping, and sharply self-aware. As the show progresses and Victoria is pulled deeper and deeper into her mission to revolutionize the medical world, the audience gets to watch the best laid plans unravel, with devastating consequences. This is perhaps one of the most cleverly crafted adaptation of an otherwise depressingly un-fun story, through the rendering of characters who are memorable, relatable, and very humanly flawed.
Verdict: while it seemed like an overly ambitious project at first, it exceeds expectations and delivers a solid narrative experience, peppered with helpful educational lessons on human biology along the way. Definitely worth your time!