This series is searching for the best web show of all time. Also see our review of The Jerry Seinfeld Program.
Great title amirite? Sex Teenagers is a cancelled show from Channel 101 (a monthly screening series in LA) that I’d watch as a full TV show. It started as a parody of high school dramedy. But it stayed inventive and satisfyingly raunchy while growing character arcs to balance out its gags.
Conveniently, you can test if you’ll like this show by watching the pilot episode’s 13-second cold open. Technically, the first thing that ever happens in this show is a punchline.
This whole pilot is nutty — but “nutty” as a sharper kind of silly than “goofy” or “wacky”. The horse joke isn’t replayed for “lol random” effects, but used to build more sophisticated jokes. The saltwater drug is a simple visual gag that doesn’t devolve into boring addiction parody.
Episode 2 is still nutty, and everyone’s still exploring the pilot’s implications.
I asked David Seger (who co-created the series with Tom Kauffman) how the show was conceived. He said:
It all started as a parody of Skins. Lots of girls I knew were fans of the British show, watching it on Netflix, and I thought it was a fun genre to make fun of. Over-sexed teenagers doing drugs and having sex. It’s something that’s already kinda weird to be on television so doing a supercharged Channel 101 version of it seemed really fun. I told Tom about the idea and he got pretty excited about it, so we threw the episode together.
The initial plan was to just go really weird. We decided it’d be funny if someone was in love with a dog or a horse. We found out we had access to a horse. Tom had the idea about seawater as a drug, so we embraced that. We let the show live in a really bizarre universe.
The show was the top pick at its first Channel 101 screening (where the audience sees ten shows and votes for five to continue with a new episode at the next screening).
Here the show evolves into somewhat saner plots, where humor can come out of character behavior and banter. It’s feeling less like a sketch show and more like an ensemble series. Goddamn, I cackled at the dad’s TV joke and Moses (Dominic Dierkes)’s line at 3:03. This is FX-sitcom-level stuff.
There were a few big ways the show evolved — for one, the characters grew a lot as more stories were told about them, so things got a little less bizarre and a little more genuine. The later episodes, five and six, have storylines that feel more sweet and character-based.
Another big way the show changed is that we lost the actress who played Danielle after episode 3 (she moved away), which drifted us out of your complex ensemble piece and into some nice “trio” storylines.
As the main cast shrinks, Daphne (Jae Suh) gets more assertive while staying shy of “wacky”. Moses gets more innocent and pliable. James (James Atkinson) still bounces between straight man, go-getter and advisor.
Have you noticed yet how economically they communicate a character’s problem and desires? And Dominic delivers another great stutter at 2:07. You could just swim in that guy’s self-conscious anxiety for a whole network season.
Things are getting silly again, and the flagging energy and awkwardly schizophrenic setting make this the weakest episode.
A live episode! On the one hand, it’s fun and innovative. On the other, doing it live means packing in fewer jokes. They manage to keep two plots intersecting, which is still twice as much as Two and a Half Men. But this show should be competing with It’s Always Sunny and 30 Rock.
By episode 6, we were looking for new ways to spice up the show. For episode 7, we did a live episode. We actually had three cameras plugged into a switcher board, like on live television, and we rehearsed the whole thing a bunch of times and did the episode live. Those shots in the theater are actually Dominic improvising with a stranger right as people were watching it on the screen.
Great tag, right? Still not at the peak of the middle episodes, but clearly starting to find its way again, with characters following fitting motivations. And a pretty simple morality-flip ends up feeling more realistic than the slut-shaming of classic sitcoms.
With the eighth episode we decided to reinvent the show, and try to let other people write the episodes, and our friend Kelsy Abbott wrote it. But, it was a tough screening and we got cancelled.
Kelsy showed that a new writer could “get” the show and work with its established characters. Obviously this show could still grow outside Channel 101. But Dave says:
It’s hard to make big things like “Sex Teenagers” without the Channel 101 screening deadlines, so I think we’ll let the show die there on Episode 8. We’re always excited to make new things. When the audience is done with something, you gotta move on.
So that’s the end of Sex Teenagers.
- Production quality: Elegant
- Sharpness of humor: Arrested-clever at its peak
- Rewatchability: Breaks down a little when watched in one sitting, but character-driven stories keep it compelling
- Mass appeal: If they can take It’s Always Sunny, they can take this
- Best Web Show?: With another ten episodes, it could have been. Definitely one of the most TV-ready web shows, if I haven’t already said that enough TV TV TV get this show on TV.
Most of the team are taking a break from Channel 101 stuff, so if you want to see more of their work: Tom and Dave wrote animated webisodes for Community, Dominic showed up in the season premiere of Mad Men, and here’s an interview with Dave on YouTube’s Indy Mogul channel, where he’ll be making a music video and guiding viewers through the process: