It’s hard to know what to say about The Guild’s new DVD release, collecting its first two seasons, especially since the entire running time of the series to date is roughly the same length as two TV episodes.
It’s clear the rhythms of single-camera sitcoms like The Office or Arrested Development were the primary influence on creator-writer-producer-star Felicia Day, and measured against such shows, The Guild can’t help but be a little disappointing. But measured against most web series, The Guild is an unqualified success, which is perhaps why it’s the first to gain something approaching mainstream success.
Sadly, the DVD release proves that the ideal place to watch web series is, naturally, online. Day’s tale of six guild members in a World Of Warcraft-esque game who meet up in real life and try to embark on something approaching a series of real-world relationships plays better in five-minute chunks than it does strung together on DVD. Watching a bunch of the episodes all at once on TV ends up being disorienting, as the hyper-fast rhythms of the show’s storytelling, where major emotional conflicts are condensed to mere minutes, make a lot of what happens feel more forced than it would be in once-a-week pieces.
Similarly, while craft has obviously gone into the series, it isn’t as funny when it skips from specific gamer tropes to interpersonal relationships. The gimmick of applying game-world mechanics to the real world is fitfully funny, but the character dynamics are necessarily limited by the short running time, and the fact that most of the characters spend their time talking through computers, while not in the same room. This leads to Day just giving everyone quirky speech patterns and hoping for the best. It works better than it should, thanks to the talented cast, but it could use stronger jokes throughout.
Naturally, The Guild is going to play better for people who play lots of online games and will recognize the character stereotypes. And make no mistake: Apart from Day, everyone in The Guild is playing a type. To be fair, there isn’t enough time in a given season for the characters to become better delineated, and Day is at least trying to do this by the midpoint of season two. Also, because of the milieu Day is playing in, these types are sufficiently new that most of the series feels like it’s defining a new batch of characters, as if it were one of the early movie comedies that set up the archetypes filmmakers have been deconstructing ever since.
And ultimately, that’s what makes The Guild worth watching, even if it’s hard to take on DVD. Day is one of the first to take the satirical, gamer-oriented vibe of most online series and wed it to a sense of real people behind the gamer stereotype. Her character is believably struggling to step out of her online life into the real world, and even when that isn’t as funny as it might be, The Guild keeps one eye on how her tentative first steps end up feeling weirdly triumphant.
Key features: Fittingly, since you can still watch the show for free online, The Guild DVD has a large collection of special features, including audition footage, lots of commentaries, gag reels, table reads, and scripts. There are also some good cast and crew interviews about the conception and evolution of the show.