I love the creativity that the web affords. A show like this is far too ballsy and niche to ever get a shot on general television but on the web I cannot help but hope it finds an audience. MWU strikes me as the type of series that is perfect for what MTV should have become – rather than what it ultimately did.
Brimming with high production values, rabid musical performances and featuring several artists per episode – not to mention the whacky recurring characters – MWU is one of those ambitious projects that are easy to fall in love with but difficult to sustain on the web.
From a creative standpoint the shows’ challenge is finding the right balance between creative narrative segments and the musical interludes. The shows’ host ‘Archibald Progers’ sets the stage for each performance with his comically poor nondescript foreign accent. His character is a vehicle into a world of mischief, music and fun times. Whether he is introducing the next band while intoxicated or jumping a couple of fences in order to hack into some satellite tv signal, Archibald and his cohorts are a fun, if not under used delight.
I like the idea of featuring short films and off beat user submitted material in the episodes but I think they could be incorporated better. The ‘Magic Orange’ short featured in episode three stands well on its own but just does not fit tonally with the rest of the show. Archibald introduces the film with his typical humor and his unique persona, something that attaches the film to his world. The film is a rather cute tale about ice cream with a nice lesson at the end – nothing wrong with it but it took me away from the mischief, music and fun I was having. The shorts either need to be fun, tied directly into a musical performance – something I was expecting the short in the first episode to turn into – or there needs to be some shift in the tonal time signature of the episode leading up to and exiting the short. Ultimately, the short film segments are a great idea – if they can be improved – because they increase the reach of the potential audience that would enjoy such a show. If not then sometimes it is better to focus more energy on the things that you do well, which in this case is just about everything else.
Focusing on the big picture
The show includes an artist spotlight which is a great no-brainer feature that I would love to see expanded to include interviews with the performing bands. It could also be used to help better incorporate the short films featured in the show. These features make the show feel like more than just a performance piece, and move it closer to something I would categorize as a ‘video music magazine.’
Being more than just a vehicle for band performances seems to be a goal for show runners Andy Beargle and Kevin Winkler. The two see Mid West Underground as an opportunity to create an out lit for the myriad of talented artists that surround them.
There is one such spotlight where musician Gabe Garber gives us a look into the complexities and uses of a guitarist pedal set up. The feature gave an insight into the thought and preparation that go into a live performance that I do not expect more casual music fans to be aware of. Glimpses like these into the inner workings of creative endeavors set shows like MWU apart from generic youtube channels. If the show finds success Andy and Kevin hope to be able to shine a little light onto lesser known talents.
The production values are solid, especially for a web series. All of the performances seem to be shot with an eye towards the edit, which is also quite good. I could see a further push towards professionalism by incorporating lower thirds and other graphics into the show. A lot of information is given verbally and a nice graphic can help the viewer to retain that knowledge or easily recall it later on.
The real highlight of Mid West Underground is that I have now found a bunch of bands I need to check out on youtube. Perhaps the most shining aspect of the show is the quality of the musical performances. The audio recordings are top notch and the band selection includes quality underground bands from all around the mid west, not simply crappy local high school groups.
I am a sucker for live performances recorded in super duper high quality. Mid West Underground provides a studio that really captures the bands at their best. For smaller bands this is a great opportunity to put your best foot forward on the web, something I feel more well-known bands should also be trying. The show is a nice showcase which should not make it too difficult to recruit new bands for future episodes.
Aside from the quality of the web series itself, the question going forward will be the sustainability of the show financially. The show is currently not monetized and paid for out of the creators own pockets. They are currently attempting to change that through use of a kickstarter campaign. The money they intend to raise will go to spread the word about their show, and allow them to speed up the process of video creation. As with most web series and transmedia endeavors the small group of talented people involved in their creation have trouble wearing the ever increasing number of hats required to create and market a quality product with limited funds. Hopefully, with a successful kickstarter push they will be able to focus their attention on making more good stuff for us and let someone else take advantage of social media and other channels to get the word out.