Judge Erich Asperschlager thinks this Guild is way cooler than those Lollipop guys.
"So, it's Friday night…I haven't left the house in a week…[and] there's a gnome warlock in my living room sleeping on my couch."
Until recently, internet videos have been almost entirely disposable. More and more, though, talented people are using the freedom of the web to create content that rivals TV network programming. You could argue that the major crossover event for television and the internet happened back in 2008 with Joss Whedon's Emmy-winning web series Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. But you could also argue that Dr. Horrible might not have hogged the world's bandwidth if Whedon hadn't been inspired by another web-only series: The Guild. Created and written by recovering World of Warcraft addict Felicia Day (who co-starred with Neil Patrick Harris in Dr. Horrible), The Guild is an popular online sitcom about a group of dysfunctional gamers whose lives get even more complicated once they meet in real life.
Released as a series of 3-7 minute episodes, The Guild launched in July, 2007. The combination of Day's sharp writing, memorable characters, and authentic representation of gaming culture attracted a rabid following. When the low-budget production ran dangerously short on funds after only a few episodes, viewer donations actually kept the show afloat. After its ragtag first season, The Guild got a major financial boost from solid first-season DVD sales and a licensing deal with Microsoft. Being in a more stable place meant the show could afford things like a bigger crew and better equipment. Not only was Season Two longer than the first, they were able to film it in a widescreen, high-def format.
The Guild made the jump from the web to DVD with Amazon.com-exclusive single season releases. Now, those seasons have been combined into one set. Packed with extras and nods to the fans who made the show a success, The Guild: Seasons One & Two is not only a boon for the cost-conscious, it's also the perfect way for new viewers to discover this groundbreaking show.
Facts of the Case
In her online life, Cyd Sherman (Felicia Day) has it all together. Playing a priestess named Codex, she's a valuable member of "The Knights of Good" Guild—a group of six people who play an online role playing game together. In real life, however, things aren't going so well. Her boyfriend dumped her, her therapist has stopped taking her calls, and now one of her male Guild-mates (an earnest mage named Zaboo) is stalking her. When Zaboo (Sandeep Parikh) shows up unannounced on her doorstep and moves in, Codex decides its time to involve her internet friends in her real life. Under the guise of deciding what to do about a troublesome Guild member named Bladezz (Vincent Caso), she convinces harried mom Clara (Robin Thorsen), the antisocial Tinkerballa (Amy Okuda), and their de facto leader Vork (Jeff Lewis) that they should meet, hoping that they will help her get rid of her unwanted houseguest.
With its big names and famous creator, Dr. Horrible had major crossover appeal. The Guild probably won't ever have that kind of mainstream success, but I'd bet a lot of its fans want to keep it that way. The Guild could never make it on television. It's far too geeky. Its characters throw around gaming slang, make QWERTY jokes, and sabotage each other through network encryption. It wins awards not from the Academy, but from web sites like Yahoo! and YouTube. Compared to the geekiest network television fare, The Guild makes The Big Bang Theory look like Gossip Girl. Lucky for those of us who appreciate internet culture in all its LOL glory, Felicia Day's creation not only exists, it's exactly where it ought to be.
At the risk of ruining what little geek cred I've earned, I have to admit that, before this DVD, I'd never seen The Guild. As grateful as I am to finally see this awesome show, I'm also glad I waited. Although The Guild experience is arguably more authentic online, having the first two seasons in one easy-to-watch package has its advantages. First off, it eliminates the most frustrating thing about the show's schedule: having to wait for the next episode. During its first season run, Guild fans faced gaps of a month or more between episodes. That's a long time to wait when your average episode is less than five minutes long.
Thanks to Microsoft's involvement, the second season episodes came out on a more regular basis. Even so, you can't beat having immediate access to all 22 episodes. The "Play All" option for each disc strips out the opening and closing credits, meaning you can watch all 40 minutes of season one, and 74 minutes of season two, as continuous mini-movies.
There's another benefit to having both seasons in one package: Season Two is way better than Season One. The first batch of episodes feels like a prologue (probably because Season One began as Day's pilot script for the series). Besides Codex—and, to some extent, Zaboo—the characters are under-developed; and the series' first-time actors deliver many an awkward line reading. Already an accomplished actor and writer, Day owns the series. Like a cross between Mary Lynn Rajskub and Jenna Fischer, she's the best thing about Season One. Little wonder she became the show's breakout star.
In Season Two, the improvements go way beyond filming in HD. With introductions out of the way, every Guild member gets his or her chance to shine, including Clara's determination to make every minute count during a rare weekend to herself, and Tink's exploitation of the young and horny Bladezz. Vork really comes into his own in Season Two. No longer just a tightwad in oversized headphones, we get a disturbing peek inside his home life when Zaboo moves in—part of his personal quest to "level up" his manhood to win Codex's affection. As the oddest couple around, Vork and Zaboo's cohabitation is hilarious. Zaboo moving out also gives Codex the room to develop a crush on a stuntman neighbor, leading up to a finale house party that spirals out of control.
Besides collecting the first two seasons in one place, The Guild: Seasons One & Two also packs in a hefty helping of extras. Aimed at the fans whose support makes the show possible, the bonus materials include four full-length commentaries (two for each season) featuring the cast, directors, and producers; audition footage for the main cast and second season newcomers; a second season table read; gag reels; season-retrospective cast interviews; PDF versions of the scripts; fan art; and each season's bonus Christmas videos. Inside the packaging, there's also a note from Felicia Day and a handy "gaming glossary," providing definitions for the online role-playing slang used in the show.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Combining the complete first and second seasons on DVD is an upgrade in every way but one. You can watch Season Two online, for free, in HD. On DVD, it's only available in standard definition. Overall, the audio-video presentation is solid across both discs. The stereo audio won't blow you away, but it delivers on dialogue and the occasional backing music. The switch from full frame to widescreen is a welcome bonus for Season Two. It's just not technically as "good" as it is online. (I know. I'm a jerk.)
Though Season One of The Guild feels like it came from the internet, Season Two could easily fit into a big-budget television lineup. Not that I'd want it to. The Guild works because it embraces a popular culture outside of the mainstream. Although you could watch it for free online (and you should), the copious extras and viewing options make this DVD set worth the real-world gold, both for longtime fans and for "newbs."
An epic loot drop! Not guilty.
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