Video Game High School: Pwned for the Holidays
Series producer Matthew Arnold continuously warned me that the fifth episode of Video Game High School would be a big shake-up to the established order of things. Every hint he dropped made me hope for a Christmas special because I freakin' love Christmas specials! I wasn't disappointed. They call it L33tmas, but yeah, here's the VGHS Christmas special!
The show continues to dance a very edgy line as far as web series go, and I'm not sure if it's brave or reckless. Where even shows with the clout like Arrested Development are tailoring their lengths for the ADD YouTube medium, VGHS insists on these full-length television running times. I keep expecting it to backfire on them, this stubborn adherence to the regular TV industry standards this season, but it just keeps working. There's little to no padding, and the stories that the show tells throughout the episodes grow in startling ways.
Even more daring, this episode features exactly zero gameplay footage. It takes place entirely in real life, which is a brilliant analogy for the need to step away from the controller every now and then and reconnect on a basic human level. As they have done so masterfully this season, the team behind the show explores what exactly being so immersed in games and gaming culture is doing to the next generation. As an experiment, it was dangerous, but as an art work, it's nails it!
See also: Video Game High School: Play to Learn
In one sense, this is actually the first real Brian D episode of the new season, which is weird because he's in it for less than half the scenes. We've already explored how sad Brian (And pretty much everyone else's) home life is outside of VGHS. His mother hasn't spoken to him since he enrolled, and her only communication was a note when she shipped his cat off to him. Now he's determined to connect with his new family of friends at the school by making a Thanksgiving dinner for all of them.
Side note, each student at the school has picked a different holiday to celebrate on L33tmas, everything from Easter to Opposite Day.
Brian's problem is that one bit at a time his plate has gotten to overflowing. The loss of his scholarship, the fact that he's had to keep his relationship with Jenny secret, his part-time job cleaning to pay for his school, and the load at first-person shooter have worn him down to almost nothing. As he tries desperately to have one nice, quiet night of calm celebration, all his friends around him continue manically in their own pursuits.
Eventually, Brian snaps over a tiny thing at the dinner, cursing his friends as selfish, and storming out to finish his janitorial work.
One person I've almost never mentioned in the course of reviews is Harley Morenstein as Dean Ernie Calhoun, and that's a sin because Morenstein is bloody brilliant. Like Brian Firenzi, he's the master of surrealistic moments that make him an integral part of Brian D's torment. He's always the last little twist of the knife in any given situation, and an integral part of the show that I should probably celebrate more.