Hulu why you no be better at this?!
There are some musings below about how we wound up with the sack of bland and missed potential that is Hulu’s new original series Deadbeat, but first a few thoughts about the sack:
Deadbeat has a perfectly fine premise – slacker guy is actually a medium but is terrible at monetizing this skill; successful (also female, also attractive) medium is a fake; only slacker can actually help ghosts get some peace. It’s a premise that could have been pitched in the 80s, or the 90s, or 2004. Its execution is also all of those times, but mostly 2004. It’s pre Arrested Development, post the domination of the genre by three-camera setups. It’s Television creating Comedy before the Internet helped show Television that there were a lot of very, very funny things out there that Television had never really conceived of as Comedy, let alone Sellable.
Ultimately it’s an insubstantial show – like the main character, it drifts a bit along its 22 minutes. Everyone, the ghost guest stars especially, feels like they’ve been told to hit the lines as their characters; jokes are tipped instead of relying on the writing. And there’s not much going on in the writing – promising beats appear and then fade into a haze. Finally, I’ll note it’s getting harder and harder to tell if Tyler Labine has lousy luck, can’t pick projects (Sons of Tucson, Animal Practice) or if this is where he tops out as a comedic lead. He’s been so much fun here and there in supporting roles (Boston Legal comes to mind) that it could be any of the three.
So… why did this happen? It’s not a devastating blow to Hulu or the new concepts in content creation or anything, but it’s nowhere near any of Netflix’s original shows. It doesn’t even have the watchability of Battleground, Hulu’s first foray into scripted productions, which is worth a watch. Hell, The Booth at the End is more engaging (though much less funny) and that’s two people who are not Wallace Shawn sitting in a damn diner talking to each other in monotones.
The problem is Hulu is now like any network, any production house. Subpar stuff gets written, selected, and broadcast all the time, on networks, on cable, and now online. In the case of Deadbeat, they’re trying to go single camera, non-mockumentary style, and that’s not really fertile ground for brilliant new ideas; it’s not where people want to work, per se. Happy Endings was the exception.
Hulu can’t possibly have Netflix money, so they’re already at a disadvantage. With NBC about to crowdsource sitcom ideas they’re now at even more of a potential disadvantage – if online was the way to get new talent into the pipeline, what will a network with ten times the viewership throwing open its doors to new talent do? Hulu’s late to the game, and not picking or funding projects in a manner that will bring in real talent, and treading too cautiously in creative waters.