For today’s throwback you need to go all the way to the year 2014, November 2014. Sure, that was only a couple months ago, but you might remember this. The third season of VGHS was one of the more heavily advertised web series ever and a big push was made by YouTube to present it as an example of the platform being viable for productions above the amateur level. What about this surprisingly popular bizarre internet show “Video Game High School” do you need to know? Should you see it? Why does it matter?
Let’s answer these questions in reverse order.
If for no other reason, the production side of things is incredibly interesting. VGHS is notable for being a budgeting miracle. All three seasons were in part crowd-funded utilizing two popular funding platforms Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Then there’s the audience. The first episode has almost 13 million views on YouTube at this point.
To be blunt, the first episode is a bad place to start with this show. It hides the greatest asset VGHS has, four core characters the audience cares about because only one is introduced. The first episode also seems to want the audience to know this will be weird and silly in a really ham-handed way (there is an inexplicable hover bike). I really think the five million view drop off between the first and second episodes is related to the weakness of this first episode. I have a friend who experienced just this, a thirty-year-old man who saw the first episode and told me, “well maybe if I was trapped on a plane.” This is the last thing you want to hear about a show shooting for a broad audience beyond the army of 12-15 year-olds that are the bread and butter of web content.
With that in mind, I do think you should watch VGHS. I think my friend and other older viewers like him who think of themselves as “gamers” could glean a lot from VGHS. At the same time, you should know what you’re in for, which is a progressively bettering experience that builds on strong character foundations with some fun action moments peppered throughout. Really this show is just a heighten high school story about the new kid and the jock who runs the school. Their epic conflict in the mythological “high school” where everything hangs in the balance, where battles are won or lost, and where the social stakes are unimaginably high seems to fit with the equally heightened video game aesthetic the show goes for.
These are three great episodes that introduce and exemplify VGHS
The first season was recut as a movie and the ninth episode is where the meat of the movie takes place. The meat of the action. The meat of the light relationship drama and a fair helping of madcap comedy. This episode even gives us the meat of Zachary Levi’s performance as a teacher at the school. Levi is best known for his role on “Chuck” as the title character. “Chuck” offers a good parallel for how the show deals with how videogames are represented which is something vaguely Call of Duty-esque. This was absolutely true of the public consciousness in 2012 and as the show aged, it reflected shifting trends as well by directly commenting on lesser appreciated genres in the later seasons.
The Law, the first season’s bad guy, is really humiliated in the second season. In many ways The Law represents the worst in “gamer” culture. He’s all about his individual performance in video games which is a silly thing to be serious about. He treated his girlfriend in season one like a trophy. His self-involved tough talk plays pretty hilariously when it comes out of Brian Firenzi’s mouth though. He slaps his thighs and calls them pythons, and falls in love with a robot undercover as a girl at his school. The same robot eventually saves him and his soggy whitey tighties in an attempt to clear his name in a cheating scandal. It’s ludicrous and that’s what this episode is all about. This episode features the creator’s most direct description of adolescent love which is open to everyone even robots and villains and really just means thinking someone else is pretty cool.
I hate it when reviewers use the phrase “legitimate pathos” like there is some kind of illegitimate pathos. If you feel it, you feel it. That’s always been my thinking and this episode makes you feel it. There’s really a great moment cinematically where the show literally turns off the sitcom and gets serious. The camera starts invading the perspective of the characters and goes hand held for real emotional punch. This episode proves that VGHS has range as a show. All the light moments make the heavy moments hit harder.