Review: “People Watching” (Season 1) (Animated Youtube Series)

Well, I don’t usually review things on Youtube but I thought that I’d make an exception in this extra article. This is mostly because, over the past ten weeks, the creator of my favourite webcomic (Subnormality” By Winston Rowntree) has been releasing a weekly animated Youtube series called “People Watching” which was co-produced by a humour/journalism site called “Cracked”.

So, since the individual episodes are a bit too short to review on their own, I thought that I’d wait until the first season of the show had finished and review it as a whole.

Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS. Likewise, this is a show that is firmly aimed at audiences in their 20s-30s. So, if you don’t fit into this age group, then you may or may not enjoy it as much.

So, let’s take a look at season one of “People Watching”:

This is most of the series’ cast, although one character is standing behind the camera in this scene.

Although “People Watching” contains several recurring characters, the episodes are self-contained and can be watched in pretty much any order (it’s best to watch episode 10 last though).

Like in Rowntree’s “Subnormality” comics, the episodes often tend to focus on observations about society, introspective topics and cultural commentary. The series also contains a mixture of comedy and serious moments. Sorry if this description sounds a bit bland, but it’s a really difficult series to describe in a single paragraph.

Let me start by saying that the art in this series is actually as good as the astonishingly detailed art in “Subnormality”. I’d initially expected the level of artistic detail to drop somewhat due to the practicalities of the animation process. But, Rowntree’s art is as spectacular as ever.

Plus, the Sphynx also makes a cameo appearance in the background here.

As for the animation quality, it’s surprisingly good considering that this is a low-budget series on Youtube. Although there are occasional examples of clunky animation (such as someone running in the early parts of episode four), limited animation and/or re-used backgrounds – the animation is, on the whole, fairly good. Since this is a series where the main emphasis is on the dialogue and the storytelling, the limitations of the animation don’t really get in the way of the show.

Likewise, the voice acting in this series is fairly good too. Since the series mostly focuses on a group of new characters, there isn’t the “this character shouldn’t sound like that” problem that you can sometimes get when comics and/or novels are adapted to the screen. The main characters sound like fairly ordinary American or Canadian twentysomethings and the voice acting just comes across as “acting” rather than “voice-acting”.

But, in terms of story quality, the series is something of a mixed bag though. For every good episode, there’s usually one.. less-good… episode.

But, when this series is good, it is good! So, I’ll start with the best moments. As a side note, the episode titles displayed in the episodes are different from the video titles (“Cracked” is notorious for random, inexplicable title changes).

The best episodes in the series are probably episode four and episode nine. And here’s why…

Episode four (“Death Is Bullshit”) revolves around a character having a near-death experience and then trying to find some way to rationalise the concept of death. Although this sounds like a super-depressing episode, it is one of the most psychologically nuanced and emotionally profound things that I’ve ever seen on Youtube. Surprisingly though, it seems to be one of the least popular episodes in the series – if the Youtube comments when it was originally realeased were anything to go by.

Yes, it might look like science fiction. Parts of the episode might even sound like science fiction. But, it isn’t an episode about science fiction!

However, if you remember that it’s supposed to be an episode about psychology and not about science fiction or new age philosophy, then it will probably make you cry with it’s sheer emotional profundity.

Even though the episode itself points out that it’s about the fear of death and it’s effects (eg: in a spine-tingling moment, one of the characters quite literally points out that “death f**king makes you crazy”) a lot of people assumed that the episode was some kind of new age tract and criticised it. But, you’d be hard-pressed to find something as profound or well-written on Youtube. Seriously, watch it!

Episode 9 (“In Defence Of Talking During The Movie”) isn’t as weighty or philosophical as episode four is, but it’s certainly the most fun episode in the series.

The episode revolves around two characters called Ted and Martha who are having a hilarious conversation about a movie that they’re watching on TV. After the movie finishes, they decide to go to a nearby cinema to watch (a parody of) one of the “Taken” films.

Seriously, the dialogue in this episode is hilarious. This screenshot really doesn’t do the episode justice.

Throughout the film, both them and various audience members think and comment about how terrible the movie is whilst other characters are horrified that people are talking in the cinema. There’s a bit of random philosophy, some cultural commentary and so much brilliant sarcasm (eg: Martha’s line about how people are expected to sit in “reverent silence” during terrible movies still makes me laugh when I think about it). It’s a fun, funny and heartwarmingly nice episode.

Episode 10 (“Nostalgia”) sits somewhere between these great episodes and the good episodes I’ll describe in the next paragraph. It mostly consists of an optimistic motivational speech (with a few sci-fi elements) that packs a surprising emotional punch, especially if you’ve seen more of the series. I might not agree with literally all of the sentiments in the episode, but it’s still an incredibly dramatic episode and a fitting conclusion to the season.

Plus, episode 10 has the best-looking title card in the whole series.

Anyway, onto the “just good” episodes. The most notable of these is probably episode two, which is an animated remake of Rowntree’s “Non-religious confessional” comic from “Subnormality”. Given that this episode compresses a dialogue-heavy (but short by “Subnormality” standards) comic strip into a single six-minute video, whilst also adding a lot of extra improvements, it’s certainly a good episode.

One of the most astonishing things about episode two is that the backgrounds are sometimes MORE detailed than in the original comic!

Likewise, episode seven focuses on a self-help group for people who look popular but are secretly losers. This episode is fairly close to the tone of the original comics, with lots of introspective dialogue and dark humour.

It also contains a bit more characterisation for some of the main characters too.

Then there are the mediocre and/or terrible episodes. Some episodes, like episode eight or episode three, seem like they could be something interesting – but end up going in a fairly predictable direction instead. Likewise, some episodes can – for want of a better term- become insufferably hipsterish. Episodes five and six, I’m looking at you!

The art and set design in episode six looks really cool, but the whole episode revolves around looking at smartphones and having awkward conversations. Yes, it’s meant to be an episode about how creativity can sometimes be the only form of self-expression some people are comfortable with, but the episode gets this point across in a slightly obtuse, confusing and hipsterish way.

Episode five introduces Ted and Martha and is a critique of the TV show “Friends”. But, well, the dialogue (and the politics etc..) in this episode is probably about as hipster as you can get.

All in all, this series is extremely good though. Or, rather, half of it is. Even so, it’s one of the most thought-provoking, artistically beautiful and well-written pieces of original content that you can find on Youtube. In a sensible and logical world, this wouldn’t be an obscure collection of 5-10 minute shorts, it would be an actual animated TV series! Seriously, if you want to watch something with a bit more depth than the average animated TV show, then check out “People Watching”. Or, parts of it at least (eg: episodes 2,4,7,9 and 10) .

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would average out at about four. But, at it’s best, it’s a six and – at it’s worst – it’s a two or a three.

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