With some online shows now at the level of quality and intricacy as Netflix's "House of Cards," the genre of Web video has forever changed. More shows are coming not only from obvious competitors Amazon and Hulu, but also from upstart Crackle and unlikely tech giants AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo. With so many players rolling out their own original content, it becomes overwhelming for the casual viewer to keep track of everything and separate the good stuff from the video that isn’t worth your time.
We're here to help with the best picks from the current crop of online originals. From short vignettes with smart animations to full-length TV production-level episodes, online programming is evolving and becoming full of the same variety that television has to offer the discerning viewer. Here are our top picks.
Garry Trudeau's political satire, which stars John Goodman, Clark Johnson, Matt Malloy and Mark Consuelos, follows the bumbling lives of four U.S. Republican senators sharing a rented home in Washington, D.C. The series was inspired by real-life Rep. George Miller and senators Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin. Schumer and other politicians have made cameo appearances as themselves on the show. Guest stars, including sardonic celebrities Wanda Sykes and Bill Murray, add to the scandalous hijinks. Alpha House is now in its second season of 10 episodes.
Gortimer Gibbon's Life on Normal Street
This might be one of the stronger series meant for kids I've seen in quite a while. It's decidedly low-budget, but appears in no way to suffer with this restriction. The series centers on Gortimer and his friends Ranger and Mel, three kids just trying to grow up in a place called Normal Street. The show is sweet and subtly supernatural. There's a frog who may grant wishes, and other unexplained elements that are imaginative and fun without feeling forced or overly cute.
Sloane Morgan Siegel (Modern Family, The Funny Bunch), who leads the young cast, is sweet and unassuming. Siegel is the antithesis of a Disney star. He seems almost too earnest, and don't expect him to burst into song any time soon.
Mozart in the Jungle
Actor Jason Schwartzman and director Roman Coppola wrote the pilot for this new Web series, now available for your perusal on Amazon Prime. Based on the memoirs of Oboist Blair Tindall, it chronicles her time playing high-profile gigs in New York City and all of the tawdry behind-the-scenes adventures therein. The tagline for the show is "Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music" and the pilot delivers on that promise.
Mozart stars an A-List cast that includes Gael Garcia Bernal, Malcolm McDowell, Saffron Burrows (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Law and Order: Criminal Intent) and Bernadette Peters. We're hooked already. Bernal plays a super-sexy (of course) young conductor, and McDowell the old-school maestro he's ousted. Equal parts campy and comedic, it's worth checking out.
This new series written by Jill Soloway (Six Feet Under) tells what happens to an already odd family when the father makes an extremely odd announcement about his new life. Soloway's writing is always smart, and her fascination with family dynamics serves her well.
But it's the cast that makes this project so exciting: I's loaded with heavy hitters. Jeffrey Tambor plays the father of grown children played by Judith Light (Who’s The Boss, Ugly Betty), Gaby Hoffmann (Girls, Louie) and Jay Duplass (The Mindy Project co-writer of Jeff, Who Lives at Home). Watching these versatile and powerful actors go head-to-head is charming, funny and awkward in the best possible way. The show has already been renewed for a second season.
Hand of God (Upcoming)
This drama recently received the greenlight from Amazon Studios. Due to premiere in 2015 (you can watch the pilot now on Amazon), the series stars Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy) as Judge Parnell Harris, a high-powered judge living a morally questionable life. After a traumatic event, he believes that God, speaking to him directly, wants him to become a veritable hand of the righteous. This story of an ordinary man made vigilante seems dark but definitely intriguing.
Red Oaks (Upcoming)
Steven Soderbergh serves as executive producer on this coming-of-age comedy, which is set in the 1980s. The show stars Craig Roberts (Submarine) as David, an assistant tennis instructor who feels trapped and confused after his father's recent heart attack. Working at the country club as an instructor, he meets all sorts of colorful characters (it's the '80s, so I mean that in every sense of the word). You can watch the pilot on Amazon now.
AOL Originals (free)
Steve Buscemi's take on Jerry Seinfeld's own meta-celebrity interview show was recently nominated for a Primetime Emmy. Buscemi interviews celebrities like Chris Rock and Rosanne Cash, but also random noncelebrities. While some of these chats take place on the eponymous park bench, the city is Buscemi's playground. "Park Bench" is easy and engaging to watch. Buscemi is a natural, and puts all his guests — famous or otherwise — immediately at ease. The show is also a bit of a love letter to New York, with the city serving as an ideal backdrop to Buscemi's conversations about art and life.
Season 1 is available now.
Milo Ventimiglia ("Heroes") stars as a small-time defense lawyer and divorced father who awakens one morning to find himself blackmailed into becoming an assassin in order to save his family in this fast-paced thriller. And that's just the first season. With fast-cut scenes and ominous music, the show plays like a dark atmospheric film. Featuring changing plotlines and characters, "Chosen" is heading into its fourth season of six episodes each. While it may not have the big budget of some Netflix or Amazon series, it's every bit as engaging to watch.
Two words: Lady assassins. In the tradition of "Burn Notice," things go south for the heroines very early on. Betrayed by their boss, they are left with only their deadly skills to save their own lives, and those of a boy and his mother. If you wondered what Gina Gershon and David Arquette have been up to lately, this show is your answer. Gershon plays the mob boss Mother, whose demeanor can turn on a dime from sweet to psychotic. Arquette plays a bumbling FBI agent putting pressure on the assassins. This campy crime-thriller is great fun — but it's also extremely violent, so keep that in mind before your press Play.
Season 1 contains eight episodes and is available to watch now. Season 2, which features 12 episodes, will premiere later this year.
Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
Just renewed for multiple seasons through 2016, Jerry Seinfeld's comedy talk show features banter with a simple format: Seinfeld introduces a vintage car before picking up a guest comedian and taking them for a cup of java. With coffee mates like Tina Fey, Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, the show delights with candid moments and spontaneous exchange between great comedic minds.
"Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" is heading into its fourth season on Crackle. The number of episodes per season varies from six to 10.
The show is about a cynical, burned-out bank teller (played by Jason Dore), whose boring and repetitive existence is changed forever when his bank is (wait for it) held up. But there's a twist: The bank is hit not by one band of thieves, but by two. Shenanigans ensue. "Held Up" also stars Kaitlin Olson from "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia," and is written by twin comedians, Randy and Jason Sklar.
Season 1 contains 16 episodes to watch right now.
Funny or Die (free)
Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis
With its inappropriate questions and non-sequiturs, this comedy series is all about the uncomfortable interplay between host Galifianakis and his roster of celebrity guests. The intentionally low-budget set reminiscent of public access television – complete with potted ferns –adds to the dichotomy of chatting up (and often insulting) high-profile guests like Sean Penn, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Aniston and even President Barack Obama.
"Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis" currently has 19 episodes.
The idea is simple but brilliant: Get someone drunk, ask them to explain a significant historical event, and have a cast of guest stars like Jack Black, Kristen Wiig, Winona Ryder, Bill Hader and many others act it all out. In the spirit of programs like "The Daily Show," this parody is often more informative than serious documentaries — and a lot more fun to watch. The show was picked up by Comedy Central, but you can watch the nine original installments right now on Funny or Die.
If you don't know Drew Droege of the "Chloe" series, you are in for a treat. Droege, whose mildly deranged impression of Chloe Sevigny made him an Internet darling, is back with a parody of "Looking," the HBO series about a group of gay friends looking for love. "Not Looking," which chronicles a group of gay friends and their total lack of adventures, was originally meant to be a one-off parody, but it was so popular that Droege succeeded in a Kickstarter campaign to fund an entire first season.
Season 1 contains five episodes and is available now.
Hulu Plus ($8/month)
Behind The Mask
You don't have to be a die-hard sports devotee to find yourself inhaling this original documentary series. The show tracks the lives of the people inside your favorite (and also totally unknown) teams' mascot costumes. The stories of college, high school, semi-professional and NBA mascots are more compelling than you'd expect. The first 10-episode season garnered an Emmy nomination for Outstanding New Approaches in Sports Programming. Who would have thought that the lives of folks parading around inside foam heads would be so addictive? Well, other than Jim Henson fans.
Hulu has announced a second 10-episode season to begin airing "later this year" — in the vague terms many online services use for their schedules.
Blue is a woman with a secret career that she struggles to keep hidden from her son: She's a call girl. Starring Julia Stiles, "Blue" began on the WIGS YouTube channel as part of an initiative to create programming by and for women, before Hulu picked it up for its third season. "Blue" is easily WIGS' most successful project to date, propelled to greater heights by Stiles' star appeal and the program's risque content. In the tradition of shows like Australia's "Satisfaction," "Blue" challenges the viewer to re-evaluate the portrayal of sex workers.
Seasons 1 and 2 are available on the WIGS YouTube channel. You can watch all of Season 3 on Hulu.
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This new spoof channels TV's "Ghost Whisperer" but in a style that is closer to an R-rated comedy film, complete with pot smoking and F-bombs. Currently in its first season, "Deadbeat" follows actor Tyler Labine's character Kevin, a ghost-seeing medium who helps spooks finish their business on Earth. Stoner misfit Kevin struggles with learning how to harness his power with stubborn spirits and make a buck in the process. Meanwhile, he struggles to convince others that he really can communicate with the dead.
"Deadbeat" is in its first season of 10 episodes on Hulu and has already been renewed for a second season.
The Hotwives of Orlando
This parody of Bravo's "Real Housewives" franchise is infinitely more enjoyable than the reality shows it mocks. Imagine if today's catty reality stars were self-aware, and presto, you've got "Hotwives." Starring the likes of Kristen Schaal, Paul Scheer and "The Office" veteran Angela Kinsey, it's funny enough to have already won the approval of the original "Housewives" puppet master, Bravo's Andy Cohen.
You can watch all seven episodes of Season 1 right now.
Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist
Machinima Inc. knows how to create killer Web shows. Its 2010 show Bite Me, a zombie-meets-gamer-based Web series, garnered 14 million views and eventually moved over to the premium horror network FEARnet. Machinima's continuation of the Street Fighter saga (based on the video game) is well worth checking out. The series stars Joey Ansah and Christian Howard, the guys behind the popular short Street Fighter: Legacy. Forgive the pun, but the show packs an exceptional punch. You can watch it all on the Street Fighter show's website.
Netflix ($8/month; $9 for new subscribers)
Patient fans' long suffering ended when Netflix revived this dysfunctional family comedy, which ended its third season on Fox back in 2006. Because creator Mitch Hurwitz had to deal with scheduling limitations of many of the original cast members, including Jason Bateman, Portia de Rossi, Jeffrey Tambor and Jessica Walter, the series adopted a different style. Instead of its original structure intertwining the quirky dialogue of characters, in Season 4, the show instead spotlights a single cast member at a time. Because of that, Netflix's resurrected TV series may not have quite the same one-two dialogue punch, but eventually the interlaced structure pays off once earlier scenes come into context.
"Arrested Development" Season 4's 15 episodes are currently available on Netflix. Season 5 is in discussions.
Critics have panned Netflix's horror series for its over-the-top campiness. But the ridiculous behavior of the show's mythical creatures and dysfunctional characters makes it a guilty pleasure for many viewers. A talented cast that includes Famke Janssen ("X-Men"), Lily Taylor ("Six Feet Under") and Bill Skarsgard helps, too. Despite even the simplest line of dialogue not making sense, the tendency is to want to keep watching.
"Hemlock Grove" is heading into its second season of 10 more episodes.
House of Cards
Based on the 1990 BBC miniseries of the same name, the Netflix original takes viewers to the back corridors of corruption, sex and greed in today's Washington, D.C. Created by acclaimed director David Fincher ("Fight Club") and starring Oscar winner Kevin Spacey along with Robin Wright, "House of Cards" made history as the first-ever streaming series to earn Primetime Emmy nominations. Many critics consider it to be one of the highest quality series online because of its level of acting, production and directing. It's also one of the first online shows to be streamed in 4K for those lucky enough to have a TV that supports that resolution.
"House of Cards" has two seasons with 13 episodes in each season. It has been renewed for a third season.
Seattle detectives Linden and Holder are back, with old wounds to heal and a new murder case to solve in Veena Sud's adaptation of the bleak Danish crime drama. With the migration from AMC to Netflix for its fourth and final season, the show's episodes are closer to an hour in length, and slightly more adult in content. This season brings a new mystery, a strong new guest star in actress Joan Allen, and promised closure for the viewers and Detectives Linden and Holder, played by and Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman.
Fans of "The Killing" are die-hard in their defense of the show, and former fans tend to be livid. Will this season make up for the lackluster endings of seasons past? You decide.
Season 4 has six episodes and will be available starting Aug. 1.
This is not a show you'll love immediately, but it's absolutely worth the uphill climb of the first few episodes. Steven Van Zandt (known for "The Sopranos" and the time he spends rocking out with Bruce Springsteen) stars as a former New York mob boss (naturally) who moves to Norway in the hope of starting over. Things don't go as planned. The show's deft handling of a displaced American gangster evolves into something much more interesting and, at times, more comedic than you'd expect.
Seasons 1 and 2 are available now. Season 3 began production in January, but Netflix hasn't named a premiere date.
Orange is the New Black
Prison has never been seen through this lens before. Sentenced to 15 months behind bars for a crime committed in her younger days, Piper (Taylor Schilling) is forced to navigate the hierarchical world where a certain reaction can either make or break you. The show is full of unique characters and stories with the entire range of human emotions brought vividly to life. Warning: Due to its graphic sexual content, the series is not appropriate for younger eyes.
"Orange is the New Black" was just renewed for its third season, with each season consisting of 13 episodes.
All Hail King Julien (Upcoming)
Netflix is deviating from its normal release strategy with this latest spinoff of Disney and Pixar's Madagascar series. The animated show for kids stars Julien, the much-loved lemur, and will be released not all at once, but in a staggered pattern throughout 2015. The 22-minute episodes are star-studded, featuring the vocal stylings of Andy Richter (Conan), Henry Winkler (Arrested Development) and many more.
Grace and Frankie (Upcoming)
Grace and Frankie stars powerhouses Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as two women who have spent their lives loathing each other. When they discover that their husbands are gay men in love with each other and planning to marry, the two women are forced to shift their perspective. Netflix has ordered 13 episodes, which are scheduled to air next year.
Marvel's Daredevil (Upcoming)
Adapted for Netflix and based on the comic book series of the same name, Charlie Cox (Stardust, Boardwalk Empire) stars as a blind man who is a lawyer by day and crime-fighting superhero by night. He is aided in this endeavor by his superheightened remaining senses. There's been a lot of excitement about this rebirth of one of Marvel's greats after the movie version starring Ben Affleck bombed. All the episodes are slated to premiere in May of 2015.
The Crown (Upcoming)
Anglophiles, mark your calendars for 2016, when The Crown, a 10-episode adaptation of the play The Audience by Peter Morgan, arrives. The series, like the play, will explore the relationships Queen Elizabeth II has had with each of her various prime ministers throughout her reign. Helen Mirren played the titular role in the play, but since Left Bank Productions announced that each season would tackle one decade of Elizabeth's reign, Mirren playing the 25-year-old version of Elizabeth II seems unlikely.
Wet Hot American Summer: The Series (Upcoming)
The cult-classic comedy movie Wet Hot American Summer, from David Wain and Michael Showalter, will enjoy a 10-episode revival on Netflix in the coming year. The series will be a prequel to the outrageous 70s-set summer camp spoof. Other than that, Wain and Showalter are staying relatively mum. Showalter did reassure fans in a recent interview, promising that most of the original cast is coming back, and he wouldn't do the show at all if that weren't the case. The new episodes are scheduled to air on Netflix sometime next year.
Lisa Kudrow deserves some love now that her series, The Comeback, is back on the air. What better way to celebrate than by returning to her improvised online series, Web Therapy. Kudrow stars as a therapist who has Skype sessions with her clients, played by an array of famous faces, including Meryl Streep, Matt LeBlanc and Alan Cumming. Web Therapy is like Frasier meets Veep and is a great showcase for Kudrow's improvisational chops. The show was successful enough to have its second season picked up by Showtime, but you can watch the first season on WebTherapyShow.com.
The CW (free)
Play It Again, Dick
Veronica Mars fans are in luck these days. Not only did they finally get the long-craved movie sequel to the series starring Kristen Bell, they also got to spend time with the show's most lovable if vaguely idiotic doofus, Dick Casablancas. Ryan Hansen (Party Down) returns to the role in this meta spinoff from Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas. Ryan (playing a version of himself) is trying to launch a Veronica Mars spinoff wherein the hapless Dick tries to make it as a spy/investigator. Most of the Veronica Mars cast make appearances in this ten-minute-episode serial comedy. The show currently airs on CWSeed.com
A series like Showtime's Weeds explored the dark underbelly and the sinister big-picture implications of marijuana. High Maintenance goes just as deep but in a different direction: It explores the quirkiness of the individual users, all viewed through the lens of the nameless delivery guy in Brooklyn, called simply, "The Guy." Season 2 premiered on Vimeo in February 2015.
Yahoo Screen (free)
Ben Stiller executive produced this popular parody of TV reality dating shows. Each season features a bachelor or bachelorette looking for the perfect mate among contestants vying for a cash prize while living together in a mansion. The series, which has since gained a larger audience after being picked up by E! television, blatantly mocks the drama involved in such competitive reality TV shows. Michael Ian Black is spot on as the show's host. But it's the revolving cast of celebrities appearing as contestants, including Jennifer Aniston, Malin Akerman, Michael Serra and Kristin Bell, that keeps each episode fresh and fun.
"Burning Love" is in its third season on Yahoo Screen, with 42 episodes in total.
The show 2040 might be the best new Web series out there. It's smart, funny, and touches on modern life and the state of media today in a way no other shows out there do. The premise is that a band of friends is setting out to make a sweet indie film about love, called 2040. But when the friends' Kickstarter campaign explodes and Hollywood starts paying attention, their little project turns into a massive action film ... set in the year 2040. Check it out on co-creator (and Broad City star) Arturo Castro's YouTube channel.
Blank on Blank
In this series, brought to life by PBS Digital Studios, old and undiscovered audio interviews with celebrities and artists are given a new life through animation. The interviews are played over smart, engaging animation that adds another dimension to the already fascinating conversations. From David Bowie to Philip Seymour Hoffman to Maya Angelou, there is something for everyone here. You can watch the show at PBS's Blank on Blank website, or on its YouTube channel.
Vampire fanatics rejoice! Carmilla, a modern retelling of the juicy gothic novel of the same name, is here. Told from the perspective of Laura, a college student trying to solve the disappearance of her roommate, this series already has quite the devoted following. Laura's replacement roommate is the mysterious Carmilla, who turns out to be a lesbian vampire — thus officially putting your weird-roommate stories to shame. The acting on the series isn't great, but the story is strong enough to keep you clicking Next. The characters all have their own Twitter accounts, making for a fully interactive experience. Carmilla is available on the Vervegirl TV channel on YouTube.
Cracked: After Hours
I used to think of Cracked as the ugly cousin of the brilliant MAD Magazine, but in the age of the Internet, it's come into its own with enough smart, satirical content to rival the likes of the Onion. After Hours is Cracked's pop-culture talk show, where the magazine's writers gather to debate stuff like why Batman is secretly terrible for Gotham. The show is addictive and is sure to remind you of those really great late-night debates you get into with your friends. You can find episodes at Cracked's website, or on the Cracked channel on YouTube.
Jane Austen purists may have a hard time with this one, but fans of the popular modernized version of Pride and Prejudice, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, will fall hard and fast for this sequel — of sorts. An updated take on Emma, another Austen classic, Emma Approved follows the antics of its namesake, a wealthy, oblivious matchmaker, as she tries to couple off everyone in her life. Though not a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, Emma Approved takes liberties in bringing some popular characters from Diaries back to life. It's fun and sweet, if slightly cheesy — like any good romantic comedy. Episodes are available on the Pemberley Digital channel on YouTube.
Comedians Aziz Ansari (Parks and Recreation) and Eric Wareheim (Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job) join forces to create this delicious (terrible food pun, but I stand by it) new Web series. The funny foodies visit all sorts of restaurants, sampling the food, providing their comedic feedback, and either gifting the establishment with an award ... or burning said award in front of the proprietors. For foodies who are fed up with taking eating so seriously, this show provides epic relief. Check it on out Eric Wareheim's YouTube channel.
H+: The Digital Series
In this not-so-hard to imagine sci-fi drama, people connect to the Internet through a small chip implanted inside of them. When a deadly virus starts wiping out people with the implant, the inventor takes it upon himself to fix the implants and save the world. Along the way he unwraps a major conspiracy. Caitriona Balfe (Outlander) and Alexis Denisof (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) star in this show from producer Bryan Singer (X-Men, The Usual Suspects).
I Hate Being Single
Rob is dumped 20-something Brooklyn hipster (though he adamantly rejects the label). While single, he is far from ready to mingle. The series intertwines Rob's ruminations about the city where he lives, the lives of his friends and his own inability to meet "the one." The routine may sound familiar, but this isn't your average sitcom: Rob is insanely likeable — someone you're happy to root for.
Rather than having actual names, the characters in this clever mockumentary about the inner workings of a music blog are all named according to genre. There's Indie, the pretentious boss who begrudgingly hired someone named American Idol to attract the tween demographic, and Dubstep, who curses a blue streak ... not that you can understand him. Two seasons are currently available on the MyMusic channel on YouTube.
Neil's Puppet Dreams
The Nerdist. The Jim Henson Company. These are the brilliant brains responsible for Neil's Puppet Dreams.
In this hilarious bit of absurdism Neil Patrick Harris stars as an alternate version of himself alongside his friends and family. When Neil falls asleep, he and everyone around him turns into a puppet. While the show is created with the help of the Henson Company, don't expect everything to be happiness and light. In one episode, farm animals serenade Neil as he plummets to his death. Check it out on The Nerdist Channel on YouTube.
Sure, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous or MTV's cribs are fun to watch, but Offbeat Spaces invites you into the homes of everyday people who see the world just a little bit differently. It's a great, quick peek into how other average people live and the strange but fascinating ways they choose to build their unique homes. This is available on the Spacestv channel on Youtube.
Fans of The Killing and Twin Peaks will get totally sucked into this dark drama. In the small town of Proper, two recent high school graduates are struggling to find a place for themselves. This isn't your average coming-of-age drama. The series starts with a murder and works backward, slowly revealing that there's a lot going on inside of Proper that isn't at all proper. This one is a slow burn, but the payoff is worth it. You can find it on the Proper Manors channel on YouTube and on Blip.TV.
The Above Average channel on YouTube brings you SNL's Vanessa Bayer starring in this cringe-worthy series. Bayer plays Janessa Slater, a media advisor who gives terrible advice. Guest stars include famous bands and singers, from Demi Lovato to St. Vincent to the band Fun. They all suffer the same sort of comedic abuse. It's kind of like a more quippy, female-helmed Between Two Ferns. That alone should have you sold.
Video Game High School
Set in the not-so-distant future, and follows a gamer named Brian who is recruited to attend Video Game High School the concept is strong, and it doesn't seem so unlikely. Some schools already offer scholarships to gamers. The show often drifts into the absurdly surreal, with the cast frequently journeying inside the games they are playing. Seasons 1 through 3 are available on YouTube VGHS channel.
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