In 10 Words or Less
Nerd comedy from the land of MMOs
Likes: Web comedy, Felicia Day
Dislikes: MMOs, nerdy stuff
Hates: Overly-enthusiastic hobbyists
The Story So Far...
One of the first sitcoms made for the web to get a substantial audience, The Guild, created by geek goddess Felicia Day, followed the misadventures of a group of socially-awkward gamers who are members of a "guild," or team, in an online fantasy game. Their interactions with each other, other gamers and other elements of the video-game universe were the subject of six seasons of 12 brief episodes (10 in the first season), which were available from several online outlets. The six seasons have each received DVD releases (with the first two seasons combined), and DVDTalk has reviews of the first five.
I'm certain that my introduction to The Guild was similar to that of many non-MMO gamers. I watched Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, fell hard for Day, saw her in the video for her song "Do You Want to Date My Avatar?" and then caught up on her web series. The show, which could be seen on XBox Live and elsewhere online, was a must-watch as each episode came out, but at the end of the third season, I slipped away, and never watched the final three seasons. Obviously, life happens, and with the wealth of entertainment options out there, you have to make choices, and The Guild lost my interest.
Returning to the show with this set, I can't say I made a bad choice, as the show was at the height of its humor and charm in the first three seasons. The show only increased in production quality as the seasons rolled on, but something about the series looking more and more polished took away from the "let's put on a show" feel of the earlier seasons. It's hard to punish a series for honing its craft, but there's a definite change in the feel of the show, made very clear by season six' flashy new intro animation and higher-quality special effects. Essentially, season six wouldn't look out of place on network TV, and that's not why anyone originally tuned in.
The six members of the guild represent stereotypes of gamers that everyone knows, like Day's Codex, an insecure, jobless shut-in, or Clara (Robin Thorsen) a terrible, self-obsessed mom who ignores her family in order to play online. Though they have gamed together for years online, they had never met, despite being each other's only real "friends." Things change though when Zaboo (Sandeep Parikh) shows up on Codex' doorstep, hoping to change his in-game crush into a real relationship. In order to rid herself of his obsession, Codex brings the group together in real life, but that just leads them to spend more time together, driven by their common interests.
Each season has its overarching storyline, starting with the group's struggles with rogue teen member Bladezz (Vincent Caso) and "boss villain" Zaboo's mom, while the second season focuses on inter-guild relationships, like Codex trying to ward off Zaboo's interest, and anti-social Tink (Amy Okuda) taking advantage of Bladezz. As they get to know each other better, their foes occasionally become external, including a rival guild, led by Wil Wheaton's obnoxious Fawkes, that tries to destroy Codex' crew, the challenges they face at a gaming convention and Codex' battles with online haters when she gets a job at a gaming company. However, the group is always their own worst enemy, with season four again pitting them against each other in competition in order to decide the design of their online headquarters.
While the show is definitely focused on gaming, and throws around gaming terminology frequently, most of it is easy enough to understand in context, and the majority of it is there to lend authenticity to their world and characters, not to power the story or create the comedy. The laughs come from their foibles and eccentricities, as well as the ridiculous problems they find themselves in, punctuated by Day's neurotic webcam confessionals. Watching them interact and struggle with dealing with the outside world, I couldn't help but compare the group to the core four on Seinfeld, as these are mostly awful, self-absorbed people, and you are just as happy when they fail as you are when they succeed, which usually only occurs due to dumb luck. You'd have a hard time spending time with these people if you weren't doing it in small, manageable bursts.
As unlikeable as the characters are, the actors playing them are excellent, with Jeff Lewis' role as Vork, the group's by-the-book leader, being one of the series' stand-outs. Each fully develops their character over the course of the show, and the guest stars, like Michelle Boyd as fearsome gamer Riley and pre-New Girl Lamorne Morris, often managed to make their parts work quickly. Taking advantage of the convention setting of season five and the show's growing success, the series brought on big cameos that would appeal to its somewhat niche geek-friendly audience, including Simon Helberg, Brent Spiner, Nathan Fillion, Erin Gray, Neil Gaiman, Richard Hatch (the non-Survivor one), Doug Jones, Zach Levi, Eliza Dushku, Kevin Sorbo and Stan Lee (not to mention internet celebs like Tay Zonday and iJustine.) It's a double-edged sword, because it's fun to see these stars, mostly playing themselves, slumming it in a web series, but it further pushes the show from the lo-fi treat what it started as.
It's easy to say the third season was the series' high point, and that's because it was. As the group did battle with Wheaton's Axis of Anarchy, the Guild was pushed to the brink, and it made for good comedic drama, while the Axis' members were worthy additions to the series. They say a hero is only as good as his best villain, and in the Axis, the Guild met their match, both as gamers in the story and adversaries and entertainers on the series. The odd romance between Zaboo and Riley added another level of enjoyment, and the introduction of Clara's husband as a member of the team gave him something to do other than be put-upon. The first two seasons slot in as second-best, as the group found their way, while the fifth is enjoyable for being so over the top. Four is a bit repetitive in its storytelling, while six lacks the group dynamic that made earlier seasons enjoyable, as most of the group is doing their own thing. That said, even the least enjoyable season still has moments to enjoy, .This isn't GHeroes, people.
A six-disc release, this set is packaged in a double-width black keepcase, with three dual-hubbed trays, which is inside a slipcover that repeats the cover art. The discs feature a mix of static and animated, as well as full-frame and anamorphic widescreen menus that offer options to play all the episodes, select an episode, check out the extras and adjust the subtitles. There are no audio options, though subtitles are available.
This set follows the show's growth from a tiny near-amateur production to something akin to a pint-sized studio product, and the quality of the image changes as the seasons accumulate, starting off with a somewhat soft, kind of noisy full-frame image in season one, improving to a clean, though slightly soft anamorphic widescreen transfer on the final go-round. Any issues present in this set, and outside of some artifacts in darker scenes, there really are no notable concerns, are inherent in the production (and are mainly found in the early going.) The presentation is mostly free of compression problems, has good color and a good level of fine detail.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks are solid, keeping the score, dialogue and sound effects well-separated, but you're not going to find anything dynamic in the mix. It's all nice and clear though, with no distortion problems.
(Note: There doesn't seem to be any content included in this set that wasn't available on the standalone season releases.)
Kicking off the extensive bonus content are audio commentaries for every episode, with the first five seasons featuring both cast and creator/director/producer commentaries, while the final season features only cast commentaries. The cast commentaries (which are unique in that the participants are featured in separate channels of the stereo tracks, creating a room atmosphere) are gatherings of friends, which often devolve into feasts of inside and/or running jokes and general silliness, reaching critical mass in season six, where the obscure sexual act of "docking" becomes a key theme (season four, recording several years ago, gets a bit retroactively sad when Okuda's interest in the late Cory Montheit is referenced.) While the crew tracks offer far more detail about what went into these shows, the cast tracks are far more enjoyable for fans of the series.
Each season also features gag reels, which are far more extensive at the beginning (15:01 on season one) and are barely included by season six' 5:52 of flubs, which are extremely swear-heavy though. A mix of mess-ups and on-set tomfoolery, the 52:14 of gag reels are enjoyable to watch.
Beyond those elements, the extras vary from season to season. The first etry offers Cast Interviews (18:52) which introduce the actors and the characters they play, while the 7:15 of Audition Footage lets you see how they got the job. It would have been interesting to see some of the candidates who didn't snag the roles. Season one also features the first musical extra, a tone-deaf MMO-centric medley of Christmas carols (1:50).
Season two give more opportunity to meet those who create The Guild, with three such featurettes, introducing the cast (15:49), the crew (8:38) and even the extras (5:50). Though all three are interesting, the crew may offer the most insight, as they explain jobs many don't understand, like what a gaffer does. This season brings the first table read (6:35), as the cast sits around a kitchen table and reads through the script for episode one. There are some differences from the final episode, but the inside look at the production is the key here. We also get another Christmas extra, as the Guild members deliver an RPG adaptation of Twas the Night Before Christmas (2:41) to their webcam. This one might be a bit too gamer-focused for "noobs," but it is for the fans after all. A short automatic gallery of some impressive fan art (:44) and more audition footage (6:01), focusing on the new characters, wraps up the second disc.
Season Three brings the series' key extra, the 3:44 music video for "Do You Want to Date My Avatar?" Nothing has brought more eyes to The Guild than this catchy, sexy, naughty dance tune, a near-perfect showcase for Day's voice, the cast's silliness, and dancing by Okuda and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. producer Maurissa Tancharoen. A collaboration with Jed Whedon, it's an insanely well-made production from top to bottom. Once you're done watching it for a seventh or eighth time, you can find out how the video came together in a making-of featurette (6:16).
This time around, Christmas has been traded for Halloween, as the gang go trick-or-treating in a cute holiday short (3:47). The audition footage has been similarly replaced by "Guild Applicant Rejects" (9:19), longer versions of the try-out videos seen in the show, while instead of interviews with the regular cast, we get 13:47 of chats with the actors playing the Axis of Evil. The Season Three extras wrap with a pair of solid how-to featurettes, one showing step-by-step how Greg Aronowitz constructed Vork's massive avatar sword (8:26), while the other features Day, producer Kim Evey and director Sean Becker offering 14:41 of tips on how to make your own web videos, based on the lessons they learned while making The Guild. Season Three is not only the show's episodic pinnacle, but it's peak in extras as well.
The fourth round starts with a trio of recaps of the previous three seasons, 2:56, 3:42 and 3:17 respectively. The third is the one to focus on though, as it features a remix by Auto-tune the News geniuses The Gregory Brothers, once again proving their brilliances. After that, we get "Game On," a 3:48 Bollywood music-video follow-up to "Do You Want to Date My Avatar?" Though competent and loaded with Bollywood touches, it doesn't come close to the greatness of the previous song. It does however garner its own making-of featurette (9:22), one of three here, including a look at the return of Zaboo's mom (5:24) and a focus on the fictional Cheesybeards restaurant (4:49), which is accompanied by the full, and wholly ridiculous 1:00 Cheesybeards commercial that launches Bladezz into viral stardom this season. There's also another table read (6:34), though not much distinguishes this one from the one on Season Two.
The dip in bonus effort is obvious in Season Five, which starts with another 2:25 recap (this time for season four, natch) which is done in an oddly snarky, stereotypically effeminate manner. It's followed by some brief cast interviews (5:16), and another similar table read (7:58), where the signs of increasing polish are evident as well. Three featurettes make up the bulk of the extras. "Double Trouble" (4:18) is an amusing peek at how the crew dealt with a pair of missing twin actors with the help of a willing extra, while "How to Build a Con" (6:01) explores the effort it took to approximate a gamking convention on-screen. The last featurette, "Steampunk Verite" (4:16) looks at the steampunk element in the season, which includes Tancharoen and Doug Jones.
The series' finale encouraged more in-depth, though certainly not more extras. Another music video (4:05) is included, this time for "I'm the One That's Cool," a better effort than "Game On," though there's no making-of this time. Instead we get an extensive 45:50 production diary, covering the season from front to back, along with a 12-part behind-the-scenes collection, which runs 37:02 on it's own, which means you're not going to miss out on any aspect of the show's swan song.
The final extra is the inclusion of each season's scripts as PDF files on the appropriate disc. Though these discs have plenty of bonus content, the set is not complete, leaving off some of the "viral" videos created to develop the "real" world of The Guild online, as well as the trivia annotations that were available on the YouTube uploads. There are still available online as of post-time.
There are a few easter eggs to be found scattered about. including an appearance by one of the Guild at BlizzCon. None are hard to find.
The Bottom Line
Like many good series, The Guild hung around beyond its prime and saw its charm decrease as its polish increased, with the last season being a step or two below the others. Overall though, the show was an enjoyable time spent with an unlikable group of people, one you'll get an extra kick out of if you are or know a gamer. The set looks and sounds fine, especially considering its origins, and the wealth of bonus content makes this set one any fan will want to check out, whether you can watch the episodes online or not. In fact, it you watched the series online and enjoyed it, bump this up to highly recommended. Digital distribution can be fleeting...
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 his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*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.