Yale has had monumental YouTube successes. From Sam Tsui ’11 to our admissions videos, Yale productions have garnered millions of views. In November, a new Web series was launched; “Backwash,” written by Joshua Malina ’88, could be the next Yalie production to go viral.
The Web series claims to be a retelling of a “lost manuscript” of the (fake) novel “Backwash” by William Makepeace Thackeray (yes, the author of Vanity Fair). Each of the 13 episodes represents a new “chapter” in the book. The show documents the misadventures of three men: Jonesy (Michael Panes, “Confessions of a Shopaholic”), the co-dependent 10-year-old stuck in a 35-year-old man’s
body; Val (Joshua Malina ’88, “The West Wing”), Jonesy’s roommate and caretaker; and Fleming (Michael Ian Black, “Wet Hot American Summer”), the flamboyant ice cream man who rounds out the trio. The plot begins as Jonesy accidentially robs a bank and with each episode, the three sympathetic characters dig themselves deeper into trouble as they chaotically flee from the police.
The show boasts big-name guest stars such as “Mad Men’s” Jon Hamm, “Harold and Kumar’s” John Cho, “The West Wing’s” Allison Janney and Dule Hill, and various others. Each episode begins with a monologue and subsequent narration from each of these guest stars.
The show is certainly aimed at a college crowd — with crude humor, foul language and drug use, it has all the elements that make a college demographic laugh.
But “Backwash” lost me after a few episodes. The script relies too heavily on amplified clichés that fall flat with the execution — a mentally challenged Jonesy tripling his wealth on one spin of a roulette wheel and the portrayal of Val and Fleming’s accidental LSD trip are overdone, and not in the hip ironic way. Sarah Silverman’s guest appearance on the show is a perfect fit for the brand of humor that it displays: It is more often offensive and unfunny than it is effective social commentary. The pitfalls of the show lie not in the writing (which could actually be funny) but in the pathetic overacting of the stars — surprising, given their relative fame and experience.
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That said, “Backwash” has elements that are sure to make it the next fauxhemian craze. Averaging now at only a little over 1,000 views, the names are sure to bring in more fans, or at least viewers.
The show is both charmingly self-deprecating and shamelessly self-promoting. In her monologue, Sarah Silverman remarks that Michael Ian Black is nothing more than an “obnoxious VH1 talking head”; in episode “the number 9” the narrator comments on how cliched the plot “twists” were. Then again, at some point Jon Hamm calls “Backwash” the “best Web series ever.”
In addition to being penned by a Yalie, the music is composed by alum Brian H. Kim ’05. Besides the occasional singing cop, however, music was hardly noticeable on the show.
Despite its claim to be written by an author who died in 1863, scenes took place in Reno and jumped from Coney Island, N.Y., to Albuquerque, N.M. Cell phones and cars played a prominent role in the plot. I mean, it was clearly not the 19th century. While this was noticeably on purpose, one can still only describe the Web series as inconsistent, not “nouvelle bohème,” or even “weird.” Ultimately, “Backwash” jumped all over the place leaving me with a bad taste in my mouth.
You can watch “Backwash” on cracked.com or see the entire series in a row at youtube.com/show/backwash.