It's been a couple of years since I last tuned into "The Guild", the increasingly popular webseries about a group of gamers playing a World of Warcraft-like MMORPG (massively multiplayer online game, for the uninitiated). The first and second season indicated an impressively charming production on its way up, easily climbing over swaths of mediocre content produced by anyone and everyone with a YouTube account. Blazing through the fourth season, the show has a new, more dangerous foe: complacency.
At the end of Season Three, Cyd "Codex" Sherman (creator/writer/co-producer/star Felicia Day) was celebrating her success at luring back deserter Tinkerballa (Amy Okuda) from rival guild Axis of Anarchy, and defeating their leader Fawkes (Wil Wheaton) in one-on-one combat...and panicking at the sight of him in her bed the morning after some "good game" drinks. She returns to the rest of the Knights of Good concerned that the rest of her gang will think lesser of her for sleeping with the enemy, while the actual gang is more concerned with the decorations that will go in their expensive guild castle -- Tinkerballa and Clara (Robin Thorsen) want pink, while Vork (Jeff Lewis) wants utilitarian, prison cell gray.
As someone who is well aware of the internet and its crowd of would-be filmmakers, perhaps I was overly relieved to discover the initial seasons of "The Guild" were not a painfully unwatchable mess. Maybe the first two seasons retained a more home-grown, rough-around-the-edges feel. It might even be that the writing of those initial seasons was just a little better (although I doubt it). Whatever it is, the end result is a fourth season that isn't bad, just hampered with an air of "old friend" predictability hanging over it, muting the episodes' effectiveness. Even without the benefit of having seen the previous batch of episodes, the characters' personalities have been honed to the point where clever ideas like Zaboo (Sandeep Parikh) trying to become one of Codex's gossip-and-hair-braiding platonic friends, or Vork's discovery of Zaboo's mother (Viji Nathan) as a helpful resource turn out flatter than expected. Even Fawkes, still a relatively new character, lacks any sway over the show's day-in, day-out dynamic.
If it isn't me, the production value, or the writing, another thought is that the show's style might be unintentionally hampering it. On one hand, I'd be unsurprised if internet viewers approached the idea of longer episodes with trepidation; part of the appeal of a webseries is that they're short, easily-digestible chunks of entertainment that don't require the same investment as a network TV show. Then again, these episodes of "The Guild" have had every bit of dead air hacked out of them in order to cram in the maximum amount of information, which is mildly exhausting. In comedy, timing is everything, and while it's possible to time the same joke within the span of both 3 or 30 seconds, "The Guild" might benefit from a bit of breathing room. Even as low as another two minutes an episode would probably make a significant difference.
The last episode ends with a clever cliffhanger that suggests a significant (temporary) change of format might be around the corner in the fifth season. Sounds like a good idea. Although "The Guild" is a likable show, written, performed, and produced by a team of professionals, the entire group has clearly settled into a fine-tuned routine. There's a difference between, say, a stage production's opening and closing nights, and they're not all bad; although this is breezy, quality material, there's a chance "The Guild" could use a bit of "opening night electricity" to spice things up.
Purchasers of the first two DVDs are in for no surprises, as New Video continues their cast photo/"ancient" border motif for Season Four with no significant differences. The artwork is slid into a plastic-conserving ECO-Box, and there is no insert inside the case.
The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, "The Guild" looks quite nice on DVD. Although the show's production values have gone up since its debut, it wouldn't surprise me if there wasn't any "more" to the image than these colorful, clean, standard-definition transfers. The only real "complaint" is that blacks are crushed, but everything else looks great (again, this is a vivid, colorful show, and those colors are the image's strongest suit).
Like the picture, I doubt there's more to be gleaned out of the elements than this perfectly solid Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track, which recreates the dialogue-driven show just fine. Although this is not a surround-heavy show, the strength of the production sound is indicative of the increased budget (especially compared to other webshows), and that quality is audible in the track. English subtitles are also included.
The primary extra is a set of two audio commentaries for the entire season: one with the entire core cast (Day, Parikh, Lewis, Okuda, Thorsen, and Vincent Caso), and one with Day, producer Kim Evey, and director Sean Becker. I doubt I'll blow anyone's mind revealing that the first track is mostly jokes and the occasional bit of minutia about scenes, props, or line-readings, while the second is focused on the writing and other technical aspects of the production of the show. Depending on which of the two topics sounds more interesting, the viewer shouldn't have any problem picking which one to listen to (or at least which one to listen to first), although even that is probably obvious from previous "Guild" commentaries (personally, I preferred the more information-oriented second track).
A handful of video extras follow. Not one (2:55), not two (3:41), but three (3:17) season recaps are included for those behind on the show (the last of which is by another internet phenomenon, Auto-Tune the News -- awesome). A "Game On!" music video (3:47) is impressively ambitious, catchy, and quite funny, and it comes with its own Making of "Game On" featurette (9:21) to chronicle the mini-production. "Avinashi Returns" (5:24) spotlights the return of Zaboo's mother to the story. A "Cheesybeards Featurette" (4:49) covers the show's fictional "pirate burger place", while Bladezz's exceptionally terrible Cheesybeards commercial (0:59) is also included in all of its glory. The disc rounds out with a table read (6:33) of episode one, which appears to be happening in someone's home (Day's?), and a fairly funny gag reel (4:11). A .pdf of the script is also accessible via DVD-ROM.
It's worth re-iterating that Season Four of "The Guild" is not an inadequate or poor season of the show, it's just one that basically maintains the status quo in terms of formula and execution. For fans of the show, it warrants a basic recommendation; newcomers are urged to start back at the beginning instead.
Please check out my other DVDTalk DVD, Blu-Ray and theatrical reviews and/or follow me on Twitter.