(a title with a hyphen and a colon? That’s what an English degree can teach you)
With the growing realisation on YouTube that punchlines such as ‘f*cking bananas’ may not be the pinnacle of filmmaking and the constant source of income that they were once deemed to be, many ‘YouTubers’ have branched out into different forms of media with varying levels of success: Carrie Hope Fletcher is a successful writer and actress, while Charlie McDonnell has had a less stellar career in filmmaking and music. Comedy duo Jack and Dean’s Ghost Fighting Corporation, their first foray into an episodic series backed by a production company, is equally varied, combining the great one-liners and sketch elements you’d expect from its writers, but lacking definition in both its characters and audience to form a truly cohesive narrative.
I understand that this is a pilot, so we can’t expect everything to be explained; I’m not going to comment on the random inclusion of Detective Stoker, an apparently mortal and decidedly uninteresting authority figure when the highest powers in the film are supernatural and exciting. Still, within this first episode there are holes in the characters that are more frustrating than intriguing: Jack loses his skepticism about the ghost after exactly a hundred and thirty nine seconds. This deprives him of a clear character, and almost forces him to enter into an awkward semi-relationship with Lucy later on, that starts with the comedic ‘I’m single’ but quickly degenerates into the only thing giving one of our protagonists a personality.
There is a wider problem, however, of who exactly this film is aimed at. Is it long-term fans of Jack and Dean, who’d understand Jack’s sudden infatuation with Lucy as part of his persona as a romantic in older Jack & Dean videos? Is it newcomers to YouTube who’d appreciate the inclusion of established actors like Sophie Wu and Doc Brown? Or is it total strangers to film, who’d benefit from the early exchanges between Jack and Dean that eloquently establish their relationship as well as this narrative’s existence as separate to other pieces by the pair? Each aspect of the film seems targeted at a different group of people, and I feel that certain groups may have a poor impression of the film when they see parts ‘not aimed’ at them; without prior knowledge of the romantic side of the YouTube character Jack, the GFC Jack comes across as a bit creepy and aggressive in constantly mentioning his single status to Lucy.
While the episode has flaws as a coherent piece, it constantly works as a series of sketches: Lucy’s exchange with Billy is fantastic, and the fact that it involves neither Jack nor Dean’s characters highlights their skill in writing, and Jack’s skill in directly. Equally, Dean’s refusal to wait for another train after Stoker boards his is a brilliantly simple idea, and the framing of the shot – with each character filling one window, simultaneously united in the train and separated by the windows – epitomising the technical excellence of the film throughout.
The episode’s comedy also works on several levels; it’s at the forefront of the viewers’ attention in scenes like the one described above, but routines like Dean’s hype-man as Jack confronts the ghost, and the superb ‘alright, King of the Doors’, reinforce the humour at the heart of the film. This isn’t to say it can’t be appreciated sincerely, but as this is a story ultimately about a skeptic, loser and shyster confronting a possessed jug, subtle jokes woven throughout keep the film from taking itself too seriously.
And that idea of not being exclusively serious is how I’d sum up the pilot as a whole: it lacks the punchiness to be exclusively funny, but is light-hearted enough to avoid a doomed attempt to be exclusively dramatic; the audience is too vague for everyone to appreciate all of the film, but is multi-layered enough to not be singularly-faceted and boring. And when combined with the admittedly excellent characters of Dean and Lucy, the cliffhangers put forward through Stoker and a clean, professional production, this is an unpolished series with huge potential.
Hopefully the creators will be pleased to know I don’t hate it.