Nostalgia is big business these days. It’s the reason old Saturday morning cartoons have become multi-million dollar blockbusters. It’s why every department store is stocked with licensed graphic t-shirts. It’s what brings bands of the last several decades back together. But it isn’t all worth remembering.
That’s where critics come in, particularly Internet critics. Newspapers, magazines, and television programs have always focused on bringing you the latest and greatest, and while the World Wide Web streamlined that at an even faster face, it also became the best place to archive and seek out every last bit of information you thought (or maybe hoped) was lost to time.
Did a celebrity make a bad commercial before they were famous? It’s easily found on YouTube. Can’t remember the name of that movie that always used to play on late-night cable? Someone has clips and a full synopsis on their movie blog. Reviews were typically reserved for whatever movie or television episode people hadn’t seen yet, but some of the most prominent Internet critics have dived decades into the past to dig up hidden gems or rip apart what may have ruined their childhoods.
Probably the most well-known of these critics are the Angry Video Game Nerd and the Nostalgia Critic. While the Nerd, James Rolfe, is taking his series to the next level with an upcoming independent movie, the Critic, Doug Walker, seemed content after about five years to end his show in September 2012 after reviewing everything from the “Super Mario Bros.” movie to “Dunston Checks In” to “Batman and Robin” to “The Care Bears: Adventure in Wonderland.”
The reason these web shows, along with newcomers like Red Letter Media, have outlasted most lies in the hosts’ characters – instead of reviewing the games or movies as themselves, they’ve adopted funny, over-the-top characters that eat and breathe nostalgia. The videos, which became their full-time jobs, evolved from simple reviews to entire storylines of their own, and Walker’s seemed to undergo the most development through extended annual anniversary videos that saw the Critic team up with other hosts on his website, thatguywiththeglasses.com. In the last one, “To Boldly Flee,” he killed off the sarcastic, conniving commentator so that he could exercise his creativity in new ways, including an original series called “Demo Reel” that was instantly met with as much vitriol from viewers as he used to dish out.
To be fair, “Demo Reel” was actually pretty good for a small indie production. Doug played Donnie DuPre, a hack filmmaker who felt he could remake any Hollywood movie and make it better on a shoestring budget with the help of his friends, Rebecca and Tacoma, and his oddball crew, Carl and Quinn. The premise was interesting and the characters had potential, but longtime Nostalgia Critic fans just couldn’t stop comparing it to his previous work despite the fact that they were deliberately so different.
Walker immediately began retooling the project, making it less formulaic and more of an organic, ongoing series of more subtle parodies with various subplots running throughout, but before it could find its voice and gain some traction, he decided to cancel its production and “return to the well,” so to speak. Forgetting that even some of the best sitcoms on TV started off slow and even dry until the writers and actors discovered what worked and what didn’t, the Internet just demanded more nostalgia, as if there wasn’t enough already to go around.
They’re getting what they want, but, thankfully, with a fresh spin.
When Doug resurrected his other half last month in a clever video called “The Review Must Go On,” he did so with a set of new ground rules – he will be able to review practically whatever he wants, and videos will be released bi-weekly instead of weekly, allowing more production time. After watching the awful feel-good film “The Odd Life of Timothy Green,” he realized that he missed his ranting alter ego and actually did have more to say with the character; he also wouldn’t be doing it alone.
Doug often acted out jokes by himself, but he now has the help of Rachel Tietz and Malcolm Ray, his co-stars from “Demo Reel.”
It may take some hardheaded viewers a few episodes to get used to these actors joining him for extended skits, but in the latest 41-minute “Pearl Harbor” critique, I think they really exhibit just how funny they can be, lampooning the career of director Michael Bay in a completely original way. Combining the best of both of his shows may be his smartest move yet, breathing new life into an old format.
This just goes to show you that while I’m a sucker for nostalgia myself, change isn’t always necessarily evil. We all have to grow up sometime, and filmmakers, even young Internet critics, should be allowed the freedom to explore their imaginations during that process. Who knows what we’ll be pining for in 20 years? It will probably be something that’s premiering on Blip or YouTube right now.
-Rich Howells is a lifelong Marvel Comics collector, wannabe Jedi master, and cult film fan. E-mail him at [email protected]