Today we go online, where the action is. Or so we have been told over and over for years.
Mind you, I’ve seen numerous made-for-online series and can’t remember anything striking or innovative. The only thing that sticks in the mind is the brevity of episodes, the poor production values and the inability of many actors to accommodate the restrictions of the genre.
Starting today CTV begins streaming one of the best-reviewed Web-only series, The Confession ( theconfession.ctv.ca), on “multiple digital platforms including online, mobile and tablets.” That means you can watch it any old time on any number of devices, if you are so equipped.
The Confession stars Kiefer Sutherland and John Hurt. The series consists of 10 original episodes, four “scripted back-story” episodes – whatever that means – and much behind-the-scenes footage. In total, it amounts to just under two hours of original content.
And what is it? Sutherland plays a hit man and Hurt plays a priest. The hit man goes to confession. The priest hears his sins. His sins, as he recounts them, are stories about people he has killed. The hit man asserts that many of these people deserved to die. The priest asserts that killing is wrong.
Thus we have a rather traditional storyline and method. In other words, it’s very talky. There are nicely filmed scenes of the hit man carrying out his deeds and lovely footage of the church where the confessions ensue, but in truth there is something very stagy and limiting about The Confession. A further liability is the ceaseless twist-in-the-tail gimmick. Each episode – all about six to seven minutes long – seems to end with a glaringly contrived twist to ensure that you’re salivating for the next bit. Or not, if your eyes roll at the appearance of twist after twist.
What makes The Confession interesting is Sutherland, doing his familiar tightly knotted acting. He’s restrained, he’s tight-lipped. He talks in a whisper. Hurt, too, is restrained, as a priest sitting in a confessional must be. This style works in this context, but one has the eerie feeling that The Confession is little more than an acting exercise for the two main actors.
And what’s disappointing is the conventionality of the story and the dialogue. A Web series with seven-minute episodes cries out for depth delivered elliptically. Here, obviousness reigns. Written and directed by Brad Mirman (he wrote the wonderful but little-seen movie The Shadow Dancer and directed the much-maligned Madonna vehicle Body of Evidence), The Confession tends toward the broad, unsubtle statement. The hit man tells the priest, “That collar gives you power and without it you're just another man without a voice, a lonely man who thinks that breath mints and cologne will mask the scent of cheap Scotch and cigarettes.”
This reads on the page as something attempted in screenplay class 101 and it is not any more powerful when delivered in an intense whisper.
Overall, The Confession stands as an example of a small step forward in online-only series, but it also illustrates the drawbacks. It’s notable that Sutherland and Hurt signed on for the project and there is some quality here, but this will be nobody’s idea of memorable drama. It all seems so thin and empty.
At this point, it’s a truism that comedy works on the Web. The short-attention-span realm is ideal for jokes and short comedy sketches.
Web Therapy (currently streaming at www.themovienetwork.ca) began as a Web-only series and has morphed into a standard, 30-minute TV series for the U.S. cable channel Showtime. (Here, new episodes will air on The Movie Network and Movie Central in January.)
It’s the creation of Lisa Kudrow, who stars as a therapist who believes the traditional 50-minute therapy session allows patients and the therapist to be distracted by irrelevant matters. Thus, she offers short sessions done with a webcam. It’s mainly improvised and Kudrow has been able to persuade some big names to participate – Minnie Driver, Victor Garber, Lily Tomlin and others.
The intriguing thing about Web Therapy is that the Web-only episodes are better entertainment than the TV shows. The Web episodes are short. They also poke fun at the whole idea of doing things online only. That’s the core comic premise – the notion that connecting via the Internet can trump two people meeting in person to solve problems. On the longer TV episodes, the mockery of the Web becomes diminished.
Web-only TV is still in its infancy, no matter how much it is hyped.
Silent Night (W, 8 p.m.) is a 2002 TV movie that now turns up every December. Set in Germany toward the end of the Second World War, it’s about a German mother, Elisabeth (Linda Hamilton) and her young son Fritz who flee their city home for an isolated hunting cabin just as Nazi Germany is crumbling and Allied troops are arriving. Three U.S. soldiers find the mom and her son, and one is badly wounded. Elisabeth helps out but then three German soldiers appear. As one would expect from a feel-good TV movie, everybody manages to get along and become friends while spending Christmas Eve in the cabin. It is alleged to be based on a true story.
As you read this, I’m in Winnipeg to visit The Fox Soccer Report, which airs on Fox Sports World Canada. I’ll report later. Andrew Ryan will guide you for two days.
Check local listings.