If you're promoting or buying programming during this year's Digital Content NewFronts, one question you'll inevitably hear from clients is: "Yes, it's good—but is it as good as television?" Every service, ad-supported or not, is trying to establish a brand with content its users can't get anywhere else, and some are definitely better than others. Here, five very different shows that make good on the oft-broken promise of top-tier, entertaining video that's not found on linear television.
What’s dark as pitch and British all over? Why, it’s Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker’s bleak, satirical anthology series about contemporary technology and all the ways it separates us from each other under the guise of drawing us together. The horrifying premiere episode, The National Anthem, is a small masterpiece but has taken a while to get stateside, possibly because the whole series is a mere six episodes (two seasons of three) and possibly because it plays like a hard-R Outer Limits. Now it arrives here courtesy of DirecTV, which seems to have realized it can’t just provide the video content everybody else has anymore—rather, it has to have something special just for its own subscribers.
One of most undeservedly obscure streaming services out there is Acorn, a subscription-based Web platform featuring every great British miniseries you know (and quite a few that haven’t yet made it across the pond) in its library. Among its offerings: Foyle’s War, a 90-minute mystery series about a middle-aged detective vet who isn’t allowed to serve in World War II. Instead, he’s charged with solving all the murders, arsons and robberies that go on in his quaint little English town asit crumbles around his ears.
I F***ing Love Science
Discovery Communications decided not too long ago that it would make its own Web platforms loosely connected to its linear networks but with content all their own. TestTube, digital sister of cable network Science, has some great stuff available by way of I F***ing Love Science, a weekly science news show hosted by Elise Andrew that plays a little like a foulmouthed version of the Harper’s Index. It’s a little lo-fi for a series about the latest and greatest in science news, but the content is fascinating.
Digital comedy network JASH is basically Adult Swim—but on YouTube, and with more swearing. Probably the best offerings on the mini-network come from the great Sarah Silverman (whose material includes a fun music video for her song “Diva”), but there’s also content from Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, Reggie Watts, and Michael Cera. YouTube’s Original Channel Initiative (which debuted amid much sound and fury in 2012) didn’t generate much viewer interest, but JASH is exactly the kind of destination that attracts attention in a market packed with content: relatively high-budget video created by professional comedians who have established TV chops.
Minus the truly regrettable pun in the title, the pilot for Amazon’s new show Transparent (about a parent … well, watch the show) doesn’t strike a single false note. Jill Soloway, formerly showrunner of Showtime’s United States of Tara and other high-profile series, wrote and directed the first episode of hopefully many to come about a family of messed-up Angelenos and their dad, played by the remarkable Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development), who is dealing with a crisis of his own. It’s tender, it’s funny, and it’s perfectly pitched.