Despite all the hype over the Internet’s replacing TV, most online-only dramatic series have been lame imitations of the networks’ trashiest shows: all bikinis, cliff-hangers, and hot tubs. It’s no wonder the Web’s most popular drama is Lost. Most online shows can’t compete. Enter Quarterlife.
The passion project of Thirtysomething and My So-Called Life creators Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick, Quarterlife is online video’s most expensive show—and biggest gamble—to date. "The amateur has become a style unto itself—but I do think it has limits on how deeply you can affect an audience," says Herskovitz, who’s simultaneously launching an online community for that audience. "We’re offering a more substantive, more ambitious storytelling than people are used to seeing on the Internet."
The first eight-minute episodes, which premiered November 11 on MySpace and the next day on quarterlife.com, suffer a bit from pilot-itis (explaining too much, too quickly), but they back up his talk: complex characters portrayed by a strong cast of twentysomethings, not cardboard cutouts. The show’s lead character, Dylan (played by Bitsie Tulloch), has a video blog, but it’s more smart device than stunt gimmick. "My So-Called Life is not a bad analogue," says Zwick, "with Claire Danes narrating."
But is Danes’s career an analogue for Tulloch’s? Will this be the first online show to create a real star? It looks likely: The gorgeous 26-year-old Tulloch clearly possesses Danes-like smarts and magnetism (Neil LaBute recently cast her in his upcoming film). Dylan plays an magazine’s editorial assistant who, as Tulloch says, "doesn’t quite yet fit the adult mold—it’s like she’s rattling around inside one of those big Russian nesting dolls and doesn’t quite fit yet." Now that’s not a bad analogy for the medium itself.