Web Series: 2016: Year Friends
For all those who have bemoaned the rise of internet culture, there is one aspect that cannot be underestimated. The internet has allowed freedom of creativity to reign that is not shackled by the traditional forms of entertainment. For comedy and comedians, this has been a valuable place to explore comedic boundaries of humor. This is especially true for the sketch format which does not always have to follow the structure of those seen on SNL. Groups like Lonely Island, Good Neighbor and The duo of Broad City were early adopters of the culture and have since been picked up by the mainstream despite their unconventional sense of humor.
The next group that should be breaking out into the mainstream is that consisting of the sketch comedy group Sheeps, who are deconstructing the comedy web series format with their monthly web show, 2016: Year Friends (formerly known as 2016 but they soon figured out that that title was too hard to google).
Created by Daran Johnson and Liam Williams, each episode focuses on the same group of friends who all share a cabin with each other in rural England planning on doing some type of activity. But, the show’s premise is nothing more than a canvas for this group run roughshod exploring silly comedic moments.
It only makes sense as Sheep had a short run sketch comedy show on BBC 3 comedy feed called People Time. The sketch show gained a lot of traction from critics but were never able to catch on with general audiences for it to become a full blown series on one of the main BBC channels. 2016: Year Friends is made up of many of the actors and collaborators of the sketch show and that familiarity is there.
Many of the actors-writers found each other going through the Edinburgh fringe comedy scenes and their friendship developed. The show is propelled by friendship (it is in the title) but not by how close they are but by how sick they are of each other. Many of the jokes within the series, in fact, are inside jokes between the group members who figure that if it is funny to them then someone else must find it funny as well.
Without any constraints, Johnson and Williams’ product is unconventional and absurdist in format. The reality within the show is consistently broken and the fourth wall almost doesn’t exist at all. That doesn’t take away from any of the humor however. This cabin of friends is an inviting world to be involved in filled with misanthropes and clueless klutzes.
The unconventionality or the randomness of the gags may be compared to that of Tim and Eric but that is only true on a superficial level. In an interview with The Guardian, Johnson speaks about the humor of the group as, “jokes where it would take a while to figure out why you are laughing.” They use the audience’s awareness of space and time as the foundation to many of their joke making the details of the small rooms that the characters frequently occupy so very important.
However, the master stroke of the series thus far is how well the show is able to heighten each comedic game of the scene. In one memorable moment of the first episode “January,” Ellie (Ellie White) and Tasi (Natasia Demetriou) are telling each other what they would do if the other person does not get the part they are both auditioning for. The scene heightens until Tasi is literally pointing a loaded gun at her head threatening to kill herself if Ellie does not get the part. It is a rare form of joke both is absurd and revelatory in portraying self-centered artificiality.
This is the type of DIY style comedy that is made for the internet. In the best possible way, 2016: Year Friends feel like a group of people put ideas and comedic bits onto a page and shot it that very same day. The best part is that the show is still a living breathing product with more episodes to come. There is no telling where the series will go the next month.