Yahoo is unleashing a “Fall Comedy Lineup” on Sept. 9 consisting of a mix of 8-9 minute shorts, many of them featuring identifiable talent, like Ed Helms, John Stamos and Cheryl Hines. Still, a quick sampling feels like the service is playing small ball at a moment when original Web-produced content elsewhere is attempting to take a step up in class.
Helms is among those producing and has a small part in “Tiny Commando,” which features Zachary Levi (“Chuck”) as a palm-sized, tough-talking Navy SEAL (he was shrunk to 4 inches in an experiment gone wrong) who takes bizarre missions — mostly an excuse for scenes where he races around in toy-sized vehicles.
“We Need Help,” meanwhile, features Hines essentially mirroring her “Curb Your Enthusiasm” roots by playing a slightly tweaked version of herself, along with Rachael Harris, as insecure actresses with a young assistant who also yearns to be an actor. Naturally, they make him do terrible and degrading things, like put prosthetic pubic hair on Hines as she prepares for a possible nude scene on a “Game of Thrones”-like drama.
Like a lot of these shows, the closing outtakes suggest the performers are having considerably more fun doing it than most people are apt to have watching them.
As for Stamos, he hosts a show titled “Losing It With John Stamos,” in which he sits interviewing a celebrity (Alan Cumming, Casey Wilson) about losing their virginity. It’s playful, yes, but aside from being conspicuously cheap, can be filed under the heading of “over-sharing.”
Viewed in a vacuum these mini-series aren’t bad, necessarily, but they’re completely nondescript and uninspired — the kind of stuff that could easily be confused for the 10th best series on Comedy Central or that goofy short you always forget to watch on Adult Swim. They’re also the definition of vanity projects, where just having these stars deign to participate is seemingly viewed as a win all by itself.
Granted, there’s still room for short-form comedy on the Web, but it’s difficult to see an end game for these kind of projects. And with Hulu, Netflix and others becoming more aggressive about their online fare, we appear to be moving past the point of simple toe-dipping exercises.
In that respect, titles like “Tiny Commando” and “We Need Help” are perhaps symbolic of where Yahoo currently finds itself — namely, thinking small, and in need of some bigger ideas.