Top Five Long-Form Web Series of 2013

/ Dec 27, 2013


2013 was a remarkable year for those looking to watch quality programming. While the television industry had its fair share of breakout hits and critically acclaimed shows, online video was no stranger to good storytelling, either. From top to bottom, there was no shortage of great stuff to watch across platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube.

You’ve already seen which short-form programs we considered to be at the top of the online video game in 2013. It’s only fair that we extend the same courtesy to those ambitious and talented enough to create long-form programs for digital platforms.

5. “Chosen” (Season One) | Crackle

Chosen,” a mystery-thriller starring and executive produced by Milo Ventimiglia (“Heroes”), is one of Crackle’s flagship series — it was just renewed for a third season by the streaming network. There’s a reason for this: Not only is it one of the most successful original shows in Crackle’s lineup, but the story ripples with adrenaline as Ventimiglia’s character tries to save his daughter from the clutches of mysterious people who want him to do their bidding.

The second season debuted earlier this month, but the first, which premiered in January, crackled (pardon the pun). Sometimes the juice is in not knowing what’s going on, and “Chosen” plays this to great effect. Ventimiglia shines as a man who’s just trying to fix his broken family, and through exceptional circumstances, is forced to go through every means necessary to make that happen.

4. “The Wrong Mans” | Hulu

For all the concerns about the future of Hulu’s original programming strategy, the site had some great shows debut in the past 12 months. None was better than “The Wrong Mans,” which Hulu co-produced in partnership with BBC Worldwide Americas.

The trope of an everyman being in way over his head is a common one. “The Wrong Mans” doubles down on this, pitting two men in a series of outlandish situations and action sequences that they clearly have no business being in. And through six episodes, it’s always funny. You root for these men, played by the charming James Corden and Mathew Baynton, who also co-wrote the series. You want them to succeed. And as each episode nears its end, and a clever twist presents itself, you can’t wait to click through to the next episode to see if they will be able to get out of it. Here’s to hoping Hulu’s future includes more of this, regardless of who (if anyone) ends up buying the company.

3. “Video Game High School” (Season Two) | Freddie Wong & Matt Arnold

It’s hard to argue that “Video Game High School” wasn’t the most important show on YouTube in 2013 — at least, as co-creator Freddie Wong describes it, the tier of YouTube interested in creating long-form, immersive storytelling. Good thing for Wong and Arnold, as well as Collective Digital Studio and anyone else interested in creating “TV-like” programming for online platforms, that the second season of “Video Game High School” was terrific.

With more screen time to work with this time around, the team behind “VGHS” was able to dive deeper into the characters they had introduced during the first season. And the result was a stronger overall product. The second season of “VGHS” offered a show that could be home on any kids and teen TV network. If that’s a barometer you think is unfair for an original online show of this type, then let’s just say it was a show that could live on any video platform, and succeed. And it did: “VGHS” has not only done well on YouTube and studio Rocket Jump’s website, it’s now available in series form on Netflix. Something tells us, for Wong, Laatsch, Arnold, and Rocket Jump, this is just the beginning.

2. “House of Cards” | Netflix

No original online show was as popular as the Kevin Spacey-starring political drama “House of Cards.” Don’t believe us? Just go back to this year’s Primetime Emmys (at which “House of Cards” received nine nominations): During the opening segment, Spacey turns around in his seat and faces the camera, and immediately elicits laughter. People got the joke, because they had already witnessed Spacey mugging for the camera with his devilish Southern drawl as Machiavellian congressman Frank Underwood.

But popularity aside, “House of Cards” was a testament to quality television dramas, without ever airing on a TV network. The $100 million adaptation of the British miniseries of the same name depicted a Washington political environment that was positively Shakespearean. And unlike Aaron Sorkin’s “The West Wing,” in which most people in DC were good people trying to do good things, everyone in Beau Willimon’s “House of Cards” is terrible. The thrill is in watching two of them outmaneuver those unfortunate enough to get in their way (we’ll miss you Corey Stoll).

1. “Orange Is the New Black” | Netflix

“House of Cards” may have received all the buzz — and deservedly so, thanks to the epic marketing campaign Netflix put behind it — but it’s hard to argue that “Orange Is the New Black” was not the best show on Netflix’s originals slate. In fact, it’s hard to argue that “Orange Is the New Black” wasn’t the best new show on any platform, period.

Equally funny, poignant, and devastating, this prison dramedy from “Weeds” creator Jenji Kohan showed that you didn’t need a snakelike politician, fire-breathing dragons, or a meth-dealing badass in New Mexico to create quality storytelling. All you need is a great story, rounded out by great characters. And “Orange Is the New Black” had many — from the fish-out-of-water Piper to the hilarious “Crazy Eyes,” the show presented an ensemble that was as strong individually as the sum of its parts.

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