Although we wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that online webisodes are the new TV episodes, there are definitely some incredible things happening on YouTube, Vimeo, and other online formats. Between grown men brilliantly mixing performance art with the strange, quasi-philosophical rumblings of their toddlers, and a fellow who’s new cemetery job is just to die for (oh yes, we went there), these shows prove that you have more 10 more reasons to love the internet forever. Here are our picks for the 10 best web series of 2014.
Video Game Championship Wrestling (VGCW) may very well be the geekiest conceivable “series” on the web. Conducted entirely on streaming video game site Twitch, just trying to explain it to a non-viewer means risking being locked up in the nuthouse. Suffice to say, this is a classic weekly (Tuesdays) pro wrestling broadcast, except all of the competitors are user-created versions of iconic video game characters. Ever wonder who would win between Donkey Kong and Dracula from Castlevania? That stuff gets decided in VGCW, in which the fights play out completely AI vs. AI, as the screaming crowd cheers their favorites and hurls insults at everyone else. But that’s just scratching the surface—VGCW also has a deep, long-running storyline created in WWE 2K14’s shockingly detailed cutscene generator, running the gamut of typical wrestling themes: Betrayal, aspirations toward glory and even romance. I am not exaggerating when I say that, at its best, the absurdity, passion and great soundtrack of VGCW can often make it a more purely entertaining program than anything the WWE has produced in years. And because all the match outcomes are randomly generated, it is on some levels more “real” than any real-life pro wrestling league—the show’s creator must bend and write his storylines to fit the outcomes of matches he has literally no power over. And if that’s not in the true spirit of wrestling, I don’t know what is.—Jim Vorel
GameTrailer’s Pop-Fiction series is far more entertaining than it has any right to be. Its premise is simple, as each episode investigates the truth about one particular video game urban legend/. The execution, however, is inspired, as the show goes to absolutely ridiculous lengths to find out the truth behind these stories. The sheer amount of man hours put into research for these episodes is staggering to think about, as Pop-Fiction truly leaves no stone unturned, even going so far as to interview game developers and publishers in search of the truth. Better yet, the show is willing to admit its own problems, and either leave its eventual findings as impossible to figure out, or update episodes based on new information. People who don’t play video games could probably care less, but for anyone interested in finding out whether Michael Jackson did in fact write music for Sonic 3 (yes), or if that pendant in Dark Souls has a purpose in the game (no), it’s both fun and indispensable.—Sean Gandert
This year our own Paste TV critic made his directorial debut with the smart, apocalyptic comedy God Particles, a web series in four parts. The series chronicles the lives of Rue, Saul, Allie, and Jill—a group of LA millenials who all find themselves connected in small, strange ways as they face the possibility of doomsday, brought on by scientists’ attempts to create the higgs boson, or god particle. Whether they live or die is far less interesting than some of the bigger questions raised by the series, like “Why does it take an epic tragedy—or the threat of one—for people to take control of their lives?”—Shannon M. Houston
After Hours is the fullest expression of what Cracked does best: dissect the minutiae of pop culture for comedy. What’s smart about the show is that instead of offering us another straightforward list, it frames things as a discussion, an argument in which the best ideas win out. Better yet, as the series has continued, each of its characters’ personalities has grown distinct, making the cast itself entertaining—even if you don’t particularly care about, say, the horrifying truth about life inside of movie musicals, or which Disney villains were right all along. Obsessively well-written and far better acted than it has any right to be, After Hours has become the heart and soul of Cracked, with a perfect mixture of the juvenile and the insightful in every episode.—Sean Gandert
“Actual conversations with my 2-year-old daughter… as reenacted by me and a full-grown man.” So begins every episode of Matthew Clarke’s clever web series, which highlights toddlers’ stubbornness and illogical reasoning with hilarity. Starring Clarke as himself and David Milchard as his infamous toddler Coco, Convos With My 2-Year-Old has delighted viewers for four seasons. Milchard—complete with barrettes and man-sized tutus—captures the intensity behind the toddler’s actions, proving that arguments at bedtime, and potty training woes are hysterical.—Frannie Jackson
For anyone who has ever attempted to get a creative project off the ground, it’s likely that 2040 will ring more than a few familiar bells. The mockumentary series follows a trio of filmmakers as they attempt to get their quirky indie romance project funded on Kickstarter. In the process, they end up connecting with some high-level producers who wish to transform their passion project into a Michael Bay-esque sci-fi/action blockbuster set in the year 2040 (hence, the title). While this “money vs. integrity” set-up has certainly been the foundation for many a showbiz satires, the series presents a fresh, hilarious take on the modern filmmaking landscape as filtered through the creators’ Christopher Guest-inspired sensibilities.—Mark Rozeman
As if the legendary improvisational group Upright Citizens Brigade didn’t have enough prestige to its name, it can also add “esteemed web series” to its mantle as well. Indeed, what’s impressive about Gary Saves the Graveyard is not just how funny it is (that’s a given), but how incredibly professional it all feels, offering up exceptional production value and pitch-perfect casting to match its lofty ambitions. Taking the comedy-horror route of Shaun of the Dead, Reaper and Hulu’s Deadbeat, the show stars Jim Santangelias as an ambition-averse schlub who takes on a seemingly mundane job as a graveyard caretaker, only to discover it is his responsibility to keep the dead under control when they rise from their graves at night. Assisting him is his deceased high school friend (Tallie Medel) and a no-nonsense Civil War soldier (Nate Dern). Created and directed by Todd Bieber, the show retains a loose feel befitting of its creative team’s improv roots, while still displaying enough discipline in its writing to support big, intriguing concepts.—Mark Rozeman
Not even Jerry Seinfeld, the show’s host and creator, would claim that Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is particularly deep. Thats okay, though, because there’s plenty of longform comedy podcasts that are trying to dig into comedians’ psyches. Instead, watching Comedians is just what it sounds like: spending a casual afternoon with a couple of great comedians. As a result, the show tends to be pure enjoyment, with no pretentions at being anything more exciting than that. Despite focusing largely on millionaires, Comedians is strangely down-to-earth and honest, a web series that knows exactly what it wants to be and focuses on doing it well rather than trying for some sort of grandeur. And even with comedians’ lives as easily accessible as they are today, there’s still something thrilling about seeing Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld step into a coffee shop just to hang out.—Sean Gandert
While working on Adventure Time, Natasha Allegri created fan-favorite, gender-swapped characters Fiona and Cake. Now, with her own web series, the artist is changing the way we think about cartoons. Bee & Puppycat first appeared in 2013 as a 10-and-a-half minute short that took YouTube by storm. That led to a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, which resulted in the premiere this past November. The Frederator-produced series, which airs on Cartoon Hangover’s YouTube channel, is unusual for more than just its back story. Bee & Puppycat is the story of a grown woman, Bee, who may have a few problems behaving like an adult. After a chance encounter with a strange cat-dog hybrid creature, Bee’s life is forever changed.
The series also draws more from anime than from U.S. cartoons, but does so in a way that is truly unique. Mixing fantastic adventures with real world angst, Bee & Puppycat is as whimsical as it is heartfelt. Bee emerges as the imperfect heroine whose journey won’t be easy, but will be relatable to fans in many ways.—Liz Ohanesian
When it comes to finding great internet content, there is no shortage of shows centered on marijuana-imbibing adults and their misadventures in the big city. High Maintenance excels not only at offering up a richly developed version of this story, but also capturing the feel of modern, 21st century life in a way few programs—web-based or not—have managed to communicate. Structurally, the show acts as an anthology series, with each episode exploring a different set of characters. The only connective tissue between each entry (save for the occasional crossover here and there) is the unnamed bearded man, played by co-creator Ben Sinclair, whose serves as the neighborhood drug dealer. Since launching the show back in late 2012, Sinclair and his wife/co-creator Katja Blichfeld have enjoyed enormous acclaim from both audiences and critics. The show’s fanbase even includes such high-profile names as Orange is the New Black creator Jenji Kohan and Downton Abbey star Dan Stevens (who also starred in an installment this year). And while 2014 yielded fewer episodes than 2013, what we did get was enough to stand alongside some of 2014’s finest television as well as demonstrate the artistic viability of the web series format.—Mark Rozeman