The popularity of YouTube and other video-sharing sites can
be credited to the idea of “audience empowered entertainment,” a somewhat new
and still not wholly formed notion, but one that’s not hard to grasp. You can watch
a clip when you want, and decide when you’ve had enough. Forget quaint old
notions of “appointment television” — this gives you the viewer control of your
own appointment calendar and vast multimedia catalogue.
Still, episodic web-based series are in their infancy, and
figuring out both a business model and ways to try to incorporate viewers’
expectations and interests into their product. An interesting experiment in
this realm, then, comes in the form of Soup
of the Day, a free-flowing narrative show that took its lead character’s social
blogging on MySpace.com and used that to help inform his relationship decisions.
In 2006, the series attracted almost nine million online views.
Directed by Scott Zakarin (a producer of Comic Book: The Movie and executive producer of
the reality series Kill Reality for
E! Entertainment Television), Soup of the
Day was loosely co-scripted by Zakarin with writer-producer Rob Cesternino,
who first wedged his foot into the entertainment industry by appearing on Survivor: Amazon. The series centers
around nice guy photographer Brandon Craig (Jon Crowley, of The Jigsaw of Life), a regular guy who accidentally
stumbles into concurrent “monogamous relationships” with three very different women: tough
gal Wendy (Patty Wortham), an undercover cop; free-spirited Franki (Tina Molina),
the host of a popular Internet show called Missleblast;
and his photo editor boss Monique (Catherine Reitman, daughter of director Ivan,
and possessing his same big, sleepy eyes).
knows he must eventually choose between them, but he finds himself genuinely
enjoying the company of all three, and confused as to how to proceed.
Craig is a so-so guide, a decent enough chap, and there are
certainly some interesting scenarios of flagellation constructed here. Honestly,
though, a lot of the rest of the acting is uneven; it’s Reitman who really
scores as the assertive Monique (she has Craig photograph her nether regions on
their first “date”), and you find yourself wishing other characters were
jettisoned entirely. The main thrill of Soup
of the Day must have been in following it serially online, and that adventure
is obviously dented here in its captured form on DVD. The main problem of this
construct, it seems to me, is that audience members might respond to a portion
of a show, but find certain characters (which is to say, bluntly, actors)
unappealing, and then lead a rebellion of sorts that — if you’re a producer hell-bent
on trying to maintain a core audience — impacts your show in largely unforeseen ways.
The full-length feature film version of Soup of the Day collects what I gather are its first 19 episodes, but
the nicest thing about its commercial release might be the approximately three
hours of bonus footage the double-disc DVD set offers up. Supplemental extras kick
off with a 35-minute documentary that lays out the ambitious conceit of the
show, and details its off-camera assemblage. Also included are bloopers and
deleted scenes, a filmmaker commentary audio track, cast interviews (consisting
of both in-character footage and straight, off-set material), audition clips, and
never-before-seen alternate endings. I’m not entirely sold on Soup of the Day
as is, in its current form, but there are some interesting things being done on
the Internet, and this effort certainly reflects that. C+ (Movie) A- (Disc)