Luke Graham reviews Penny Arcade’s online reality TV series Strip Search….
In March, Penny Arcade (the rather large and influential web comic company) launched an incredibly ambitious and innovative reality TV show called Strip Search. The aim was to find an artist and give them the chance to launch a brand new web comic with the support of the Penny Arcade machine. Over a 1000 applicants were whittled down to twelve contestants and over the course of two weeks (plus an extra two months… it’s complicated) the contestants were eliminated one by one until a winner was chosen, who was revealed this week.
A number of things made Strip Search feel truly original. There was the subject matter; in a genre dominated by talent shows, searches for the next top supermodel, athlete or businessman, I’m fairly sure this was the first search for a web comic artist. Plus the fact it was broadcast on the internet, so lacked the financial backing of a TV network or even adverts, but still looked very professional, was more convenient to watch and allowed you to easily engage with the creators, other viewers, and even the contestants themselves. And mostly, it was just really damn good!
Produced, filmed and edited by LoadingReadyRun, a Canadian outfit best known for comedy sketches, Strip Search was not like other reality TV shows: there was no artificial drama and no contestant was chosen for their abrasive personality or for their likelihood of being controversial, unlike shows such as Big Brother, and thus there were no arguments or fights in the show, despite the twelve contestants, referred to throughout the series as the artists, having to live in a house together, constantly being filmed. This may sound boring, but what was so odd about the show is that it was about good, kind, talented people bonding and being nice to each other. Somehow, LoadingReadyRun made it engaging to watch people be nice.
One reason for this may be that Strip Search was very well produced and edited together almost seamlessly. And partly this may be because the series managed to cultivate an aura of friendliness that was almost infectious. For me, I enjoyed watching the show because it felt like catching up with new friends and acquaintances. Watching these goofy, hilarious and kind-hearted people was joyful.
Strip Search quickly falls into a regular pattern. Each day was split into a three episode arc. In the first two, the artists would compete in challenges, either individually or in teams, that were goofy (go-karting, playing ping pong) to tests of their skills (drawing commissions of a Magic: the Gathering character, setting up a booth at a con, playing ping pong) to more serious tasks (contract negotiations, dealing with abrasive interviews and twitter trolls, playing ping pong). At the end, a winner of the challenges would have to select two other artists to face off in an elimination round.
The eliminations were the highlights of the series. The artists would be given ninety minutes to create a comic strip from scratch based off two words at random, while being heckled by the judges, Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins (the artist and writer, respectively, of Penny Arcade), who would eventually pick one off the two strips, sending the other artist home. These episodes were often hilarious, surprisingly tense, and sometimes emotional. The best moment of the episode would be when the two judges would surprise the losing artist in their car, dropping the mean judge act and offering some wisdom, encouragement or personal insight. These moments were incredibly touching, as you watched how proud and awestruck the artists became, especially when being told how good they were by the two biggest names in web comics.
It’s a great show, with lots of funny moments and the added bonus that you’ll be exposed to new web comic artists, allowing you to find their brilliant work dotted around the web. Even if you’re not a web comic fan, you’ll hopefully still appreciate the show’s humour and human drama, and the skill that went into producing the show, as well as finding out lots of behind the scenes information about how web comics get made and earn money. The series is thirty episodes long now, but a DVD of the whole series is apparently in the works. So check out the first few episodes and see what you think. Is there a future for reality TV shows on the internet?
Strip Search is available to watch here.