Aug 21, 2010 – It is difficult to review a show of this kind. Not because it is a web series; the medium has little to do with the quality of the show. Rather because I have seen so few television series that I would describe as a documentary. Perhaps I need to go further than that. After all, someone may take a televised live-action recreation of a famous historical figure’s life, John Adams for instance, to be a documentary as well. Let me then call it a Genuine Documentary. I call it this, not just because it is the documentation of a living person, or because it is the actual taped events and not a recreation, but because of the focus and direction of the series.
Most documentaries take specific routes in the way they present their subject. They may present the topic as a dramatic narrative, using recreation or actual footage along with some sort of narrative device that notes the events of the subject chronologically. Others eject the narrative and go for pure written and acted drama, like a movie or serialized television show. Still others present facts for and against different viewpoints and ultimately leans toward, or takes, a side.
Penny-Arcade TV takes a different route altogether. The narrator is ejected, replaced with informal interviews with the subjects, namely Jerry, Mike and Robert (and the people surrounding them.) The plot is almost non-existent. Instead it is replaced with vignettes of the lives, events and world of the people behind Penny-Arcade.
This approach to telling the story of Penny-Arcade is artistic in nature, allowing for very poignant and revealing episodes, each focused on some aspect of the real lives of real people. This avoids all the trappings of artificial drama created by reality shows like Survivor and the dullness of lesser PBS specials. There was, perhaps, a danger of reveling in egotistical self-promotion or aggrandizement, like so many reality shows that follow the lives of celebrities, but the show never even skirts that issue, largely thanks to the grounded and un-celebrity like personalities of the show’s stars.
The camera work is simple but solid. The music is appropriate to the general feel of Penny-Arcade and is always a treat to listen to. The editing is wonderful at pacing the episodes, with sort clips that convey a lot in little time, and occasional longer shots that bring an interesting amount of intimacy.
The real success of the show is in how it draws the viewer into Jerry and Mike’s world and makes them a friend. The audience feels like they can really relate to these people, heroes of the growing geek populace, and yet still regular guys with families, careers, goals and dreams. Watching the creative process and the chemistry between Mike and Jerry as long-time friends is fascinating, as is their reactions and relationship to the movement they’ve helped create through the Penny Arcade Expo and their online comics. As interesting as that all is, some of the most powerful moments are watching them with their kids and families. There is a beauty of lives well lived and time well spent that evokes a feeling of truth that borders on religious revelation. These are people who don’t waft through life, they fly on it.
I have always been, and always will be a fan of Penny-Arcade. Not just the comic, which is hilarious and full of wonderful geek references, not just the blogs which are as thought provoking as they can sometimes be confusing (very big words, my friends,) and not just the merchandise (hey, I love the T-Shirts,) but I am also a fan of the artists, the geeks, the people behind Penny-Arcade. The reason is because of this show; one of the best portraits of the heroes and role models behind the geek movement there is. And no, not just because it’s the only one.
STAR RATING: (5 Stars)