‘Viral Video Showdown,’ cut to the quick
Syfy series squeezes into a half hour what should be an hour show
October 29, 2012
"Project Runway" established the pattern for the many subsequent reality shows in which skilled people compete in a creative field: We meet the contestants. They get an assignment. Most important, they fulfill the assignment, in the process letting us learn about them and how they do what they do. And then they get judged.
Syfy's new reality show "Viral Video Showdown," in which two teams of video makers compete to make the best short online clip, demonstrates why such shows are usually an hour long. It follows the usual pattern, but since it's only a half hour, it compresses the important third step so much that we learn little about the teams' techniques and have no time to pick favorites. The clips are fun to watch, but it would be more fun and a lot quicker to search for "viral videos" on YouTube.
In the premiere episode, airing this Tuesday, Oct. 30, at 10:30 p.m., the two teams are asked to make a parody movie trailer. The have a choice of four topics (getting the mail, a picnic, a high school reunion and a first date) and four genres (horror, postapocalyptic, fantasy and science fiction). The teams have four days to plan, shoot and edit the clips and are given $4,000 to spend.
If it is later revealed that one of the producers of the show has obsessive-compulsive disorder, with a particular fixation on the number four, we won't be surprised.
One team, calling itself Final Cut King, consists of two guys currently enrolled in film school in California. They decide to make a trailer promoting a sci-fi movie about getting the mail.
The other is a big, loosely organized group of young Hollywood professionals who call themselves Half Day Today. Their trailer is for a horror movie about first dates.
The show's host, Kevin Pereira, formerly the host of G4's "Attack of the Show," has already used up crucial seconds introducing us to the three judges — a videogame expert and two Internet-video writer-director-performers — so we don't have much time left for the actual production.
We see the two teams brainstorm ideas. One woman on the Half Day Today team admits apologetically that they're going to "objectify" all three actresses in their video. "We know how we get hits," she says. "Boobs."
Then the Final Cut King guys start shooting a scene in someone's front lawn, with the actors dressed in makeshift spaceman costumes. They have a setback when a computer they're using for postproduction freezes.
When we see the Half Day team again, it's already day 4. We catch glimpses of them shooting the final scenes and gathering as a group to edit.
Most shows in this genre will have used this part of the episode to present little story arcs, complete with setbacks and triumphs. The moments we see on this show seem to have been selected at random.
The head of Final Cut King, a young man named Zach King, gets a fair amount of face time, coming across as a likable special-effects nerd. No one on the other team makes much of an impression. So we not only can't form an opinion about the teams' working methods; we also can't decide whom to root for based on personality.
Both of the finished videos are enjoyable. One is clearly superior, even though, as one judge points out, the editing is too rushed. Perhaps to maintain suspense, the judges are kind to both teams before announcing the winner.
Unfortunately, "Viral Video Showdown" doesn't justify even the short time we spend before we get to watch the clips. The show forgets that one of the reasons that viral videos get so many views is that we can see them immediately. Viewers won't click away from this show, but few will be inspired to click to it.
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