In 10 Words or Less
Save the princess, crack some jokes
Loves: Cult comedy, old video games
Likes: Felicia Day, The Guild
Dislikes: Most web series
Hates: Cheesy production values
I don't watch a lot of web series, for the simple fact that there's a ton of really good content pumped through that big screen in my living room (and yes, I know I can watch web shows on that big screen, but until my DVR can record off YouTube, old-school television will remain my primary dealer.) The web series I do watch either feature people I adore, come highly recommended by people I trust or are about things I really like. Thus I was a longtime viewer of Felicia Day's great MMO comedy The Guild, which met three of my three requirements. The Legend of Neil, created by The Guild actor Sandeep Parikh, never received the same recommendations though and remained off my radar. Now that it's available on DVD though, I've caught up with the show, and though I wouldn't put it alongside The Guild, it's got its charms, especially if you're a big fan of its inspiration, the '80s Nintendo game, The Legend of Zelda.
For those who don't know, Zelda allowed players to command Link, an elf on a quest through the land of Hyrule to rescue Princess Zelda from the evil Gannon and his army of minions. It was a fun, deep game, full of combat, strategy and a ton of secrets that could delight or frustrate you, depending on your success at discovering them. A staple franchise for Nintendo, it continues to be enjoyed today in its most recent incarnations. But this show is about the original gold cartridge that started it all, because it's while playing that game that our hero Neil (Tony Janning) decides to masturbate to a fairy character while choking himself with his controller cord, which somehow lands him in the land of Hyrule, in Link's green tunic.
If his origin story didn't make it clear, Neil isn't the most heroic character around. He doesn't want to complete Link's quest. He just wants to go back home to New Jersey. But he doesn't have a lot of choice, as he's beset upon by Gannon's forces, which have been adapted as an assortment of humans in mostly low-budget costumes (though some of the make-up is pretty impressive.) With the assistance of Old Man (an elderly bearded gent who in the game gave Link new weapons and advice) and the Fairy (Felicia Day,) whose healing powers from the game have been translated into sexual healing here, Neil eventually grows into his new role, if only to find a way home.
The tone of the show is a ridiculous one, as it trades in dirty comedy and parody, as well as some traditional situation comedy (along with in-jokes for fans of the game.) When it's hitting on all cylinders, which is usually when Link is verbally sparring with Old Man (or when Day is being deliriously filthy as the Fairy) it's great fun, but sometimes the tone falls too in love with the adventure element of the game, especially in the third season. It may be just me, but I didn't care that much about Link's quest. I just wanted more of the silly stuff, like the musical episode or the episode-long parody of The Office. Once you've set the show up to be such an over-the-top affair, slipping into extended battle sequences doesn't work.
The same goes for the pacing. The first season goes by in the blink of an eye, while later episodes are much longer, but there's something lost as the rapid-fire jokes give way to longer bits, like a scene where Link, in disguise, drinks with some of his enemies for a segment that feels as long as the entire first season. Getting in, getting the laughs and getting out makes the first-season episodes crack like a whip, especially the somewhat sudden endings, and that's missing later on.
On the plus side, the cast is uniformly good and very funny, especially Mike Rose as Old Man and Old Man (watch the show to understand), while Janning is just about perfect as Neil and Day is a delight. The whole thing has a "let's put on a show" feel (a guy in what's essentially footie PJs and a triceratops mask is kind of hard to take seriously) and when viewed in that light, it's a pretty well-made series, but since it's a show about a game with the involvement of Day and Parikh, the comparisons to The Guild are inevitable. That series is far more polished in both production and comedy, but different strokes, right?
The 20 epsodes from the three seasons of The Legend of Neil arrive on a pair of DVDs, which are packed in a single-width keepcase with a tray, sporting sweet Drew Struzan-inspired cover art.The discs feature animated anamorphic widescreen menus with options to play all the episodes, select a season (and then an episode) or check out the extras (which include subtitles.) There are no audio options, but English subtitles are available.
Low-budget and shot on video for the web (originally in full-frame, and then in amamorphic widescreen in the final two seasons), these episodes won't wow anyone in terms of their visual quality, but they are solid, with a decent level of fine detail and appropriate color, though it's not the sharpest image at the beginning. The slight softness helps hide some of the less impressive sets and production value, though you still see plenty of the cheese and the special effects stand out (though it gets better over time.) There are no notable digital compression issues.
Presented with LPCM 2.0 tracks, there's not a lot to the audio on this series, but there's nothing problematic about it either, as the dialogue is easy to understand and the music and sound effects maintain proper separation from the voices, keeping everything crisp.
The challenge with DVDs of online content is the fact that the episodes tend to be readily available for free, making a DVD purchase hard to justify. However, with a wealth of extras, delivered via a fun Link-hosted menu, this set certainly tries to entice you to lay down some cash.The big extra has to be the pile of commentaries, two per episode, for a total of 40 tracks. One set features Parikh, Janning and producer Jeff Winkler, while the other features a mixture of cast and crew that rotates throughout the episodes, and does in fact feature several appearances by Day, for those who were wondering. There's a lot of focus on the indie production effort that went into the show, along with stories from the set, while on the creator tracks, they play a drinking game to help loosen their tongues. If anything, they helped me realize just why Neil's girlfriend was so familiar.
The rest of the set kicks off with the 5:03 music video "8-Bit Love," an R&B slow jam with Parikh and Janning taking the roles usually played by Timberlake and Samberg. Though some of the visuals are amusing, the lyrics and performances are just OK. Not one of the better musical comedy songs around.
Three gag reels are up next, one per season for a combined 30:29 of silliness.Included amongst the screw-ups are improv takes, greenscreen footage and more filthy fun with Felicia Day. There's some funny stuff, but any gag reel this long is bound to be a bit padded.
The best extra included is the 26:57 Behind the Scenes featurette, which explores every element of the production, including the special effects effort, and gives tremendous insight into how a show like this is made. If you want even more detail, check out "The Making of Spectacle Rock with Greg Aronowitz" (7:14) as the production designer explains (over on-set footage) how one of the big special effects miniatures was created, with the help of Parikh and Janning. Together, they don't leave many rocks unturned regarding the series.
Six mini-sodes are included, which is an odd idea, considering how short the first-season episodes are. These are mostly extensions of the real episodes, including additional parodies of The Office, Man vs. Wild and Harry Potter; an alternate take with the Sklar brothers and more training montage footage. One of them, a job interview between Wizrobe and Gannon from the early '70s, is exclusive to this DVD. These can be viewed individually or in one big block.
The remaining extras include a slideshow of photos from the show, PDF scripts that are available on the DVD and a PDF of the original email Parikh sent to his collaborators regarding the series. Neat stuff for fans to check out.
There's at least one easter egg, which is severely obvious and you are rewarded appropriately for finding it.
The Bottom Line
There's a lot to enjoy about The Legend of Neil, as Janning leads a funny cast, and the lo-fi charm works with the sense of humor. Episodes may get a bit too long later on, and not every joke lands, but overall the show is fun. The DVDs look and sound fine considering the source materials, and there's a pile of bonus content for fans that will make it worth picking up even if you've seen the episodes online for free.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.