This Friday, HBO will premiere the first episode of its new comedy, High Maintenance, about a New York marijuana dealer and the eccentric clientele he encounters on his deliveries. But unlike 99 percent of the other scripted shows on the network, this one had a life before it hit the king of cable. The brainchild of Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair (who plays the nameless dealer), High Maintenance was once a web series that found a huge audience on Vimeo, where it streamed for a small price. The show ran for 19 short episodes over three years, but its six-episode run on HBO will cost more than those entire six seasons combined.
HBO’s investment signals a sea change for creators who, thanks to the internet and advances in technology, are producing their own scripted content on the cheap, in the hopes of getting discovered by Hollywood gatekeepers. Studios and networks finding talent online is nothing new (in early October, HBO will debut Insecure from Awkward Black Girl creator Issa Rae), but giving a web series new life on television is a relatively new phenomenon, a sign that content-starved companies are willing to take chances on shows with relatively small audiences. Here then, are five recent web series that would make great TV shows.
Clench and Release
Comedian Charla Lauriston was inspired to create this sharply observant comedy after seeing Rae’s Awkward Black Girl, but despite mining similar terrain, she brings a unique voice to the proceedings. The first episode, “The Code,” in which Charla gets called out by a black coworker for eating fried chicken at the office ("you can’t chicken-shame me in front of white people") is a razor-sharp look at racial identity in just four minutes. Imagine what Lauriston, who parlayed this show into a writing gig on The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, could do with a half-hour.