Judge Erich Asperschlager is massively multiplayer.
"So we faced off against the rival guild. It came down to me and their leader, Fawkes. I kicked his butt, we met up for drinks, and then…"
Internet success may not necessarily translate to real world fame right now, but it will. Before you know it, newspapers will be in museums, and "network programming" will have more to do with bit transfer rates than the latest Chuck Lorre sitcom. Although it's not a household name right now, Felicia Day's web series The Guild—about a group who play a World of Warcraft-style computer game together—is a hit. That it's a hit on the internet is no less impressive. Just the opposite. In a virtual world that thrives on short attention spans and sound bites, The Guild's four seasons might as well be twenty. Besides, how many web series get their own DVD releases—and how many of those are actually worth buying?
Facts of the Case
The Guild was in shambles in Season Three. Tink (Amy Okuda, Californication) abandoned the group and joined their rivals, the Axis of Anarchy. Vork (Jeff Lewis, The Middle) relinquished his role as group leader to go on a voyage of self discovery, leaving Codex (Felcia Day, Dollhouse) in charge of the sinking ship. At the end of the season, everyone came together to defeat the evil Axis in-game once and for all. Oh, and then Codex ended up sleeping with the Axis leader, Fawkes (Star Trek: The Next Generation's Wil Wheaton).
In The Guild: Season Four, Codex comes to grips with the Guild's reaction to her drunken dalliance; Vork is locked in heated battle with Tink and Clara (Robin Thorsen, Perfect Combination) to control the look of their new (virtual) guild hall; Bladezz (Vincent Caso, Humble Pie) takes a job at Cheesybeard's to work off the debt he incurred trying to woo Tink; and Zaboo (Sandeep Parikh, The Temp Life) has to deal not only with Codex's new relationship but the return of his overbearing mother (Viji Nathan, Outsourced).
Given the show's relatively low budget roots, it's great to see how far The Guild has come, not only in production value but in scope. Whereas early seasons stuck to a few locations, Season Four moves further away from the game than ever. In fact, very little of the 12-episode story has anything to do with the fictional role-playing game that brought the group together.
Except for the geek undertones, Season Four's plotlines would feel at home in your average sitcom. Codex has a one-night stand, and she's afraid what people will think if they know it isn't serious. Zaboo is terrified of letting his mother be part of his life, even though it seems like she's changed her ways. Bladezz is doing menial work in a fast food restaurant—badly. Vork, Tink, and Clara are trying to manipulate the virtual economy of a massively multiplayer video game universe to…okay, so not everything here is ready for primetime. But that's what makes The Guild so special. Like Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (which also stars Felicia Day) and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, The Guild doesn't speak down to the internet-savvy. It doesn't pretend that video games ended after Pac-Man. It knows that if you're the kind of person who wants to watch a web video series about a bunch of online gamers then you know what "NPCs" and "dialogue options" are.
With the group in tatters during most of Season Three, the series took on a more somber tone, missing the Guild dynamics that worked so well early on. With the group back together in Season Four, the magic returns in a big way. There's plenty of drama, but the tone is far more jovial. Along with some fun new pairings and the added value of having geek-celeb Wil Wheaton on board, the season has plenty of great moments, including Bladezz and Codex's low-budget Cheesybeard's commercial, Tink and Clara selling novelty t-shirts to pregnant gamers, and Vork's odd relationship with Zaboo's mom. It also has an epic final episode that takes viewers into the game world for the first time. It also features a guest appearance by The Big Bang Theory's Simon Helberg, who stops by just long enough to establish a killer premise for the upcoming fifth season.
For all but the biggest superfans, buying a series that's available for free online might not sound like a good deal. But The Guild packs more than enough extras into the DVDs to make it worth the premium. To start, there's a "Play All" option. I know that sounds dumb, but with episodes around seven minutes each, it's great to be able to skip all but the very first and very last opening and closing credit sequences.
Next up, two audio commentaries. The first features the show's cast goofing around, making each other laugh, and occasionally talking about what they're watching. It's easy to see where their onscreen chemistry comes from. The second commentary features Felicia Day (again), with director Sean Becker and producer Kim Evey. It's a slightly more subdued nuts and bolts track, though still plenty of fun.
The Guild is almost as famous for their between-season music videos as the episodes themselves. Season Four includes their most ambitious video to date, a Bollywood-inspired fantasy number called "Game On!"—complete with dancers, elaborate costumes, and an eight-armed Vork—along with a nine-minute "making-of" featurette. The Cheesybeard's commercial that appears in episode nine is a shorter version of the minute-long version they started with, included here in all its low-fi glory. Rounding out the extras, there's a table read of episode one, a gag reel, featurettes about the return of Zaboo's mom and about Cheesybeard's, a PDF file of the full-season script, and entertaining recaps for the first three seasons. I'm not much for auto-tuning, but the Season Three recap remix by the Gregory Brothers shows that it doesn't have to be terrible.
Like everything else in The Guild, the look of the show gets stronger with each season. Season Four has a strong film look, alternating between static web cam and a fluid cinematic style as the story dictates. The widescreen picture looks great on DVD, despite technically being a downgrade from its HD incarnation online. The audio is a solid stereo that balances dialogue and music, and never gets in the way.
It might help to know a thing or two about video games, but you don't have to be a level 74 blood elf to enjoy The Guild. Online or in feature-rich DVD form, it's a funny, well-written web series that ought to make network execs nervous. I can't think of a better way to pass the time while waiting for old media to die.
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