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Last Updated: Monday, 18 July, 2005, 08:11 GMT 09:11 UK
Review: The Strangerhood
By William Gallagher
BBC News entertainment reporter

The Strangerhood
The Strangerhood is a parody of US sitcoms

All this week the BBC News website is speaking to people whose creativity has been transformed in the digital age.

From blogging to podcasting, millions of ordinary people are becoming writers, journalists, broadcasters and film-makers thanks to increasingly affordable and accessible tools.

We have all seen limp sitcoms and known that we could do better ourselves but the team behind The Strangerhood hasn't just talked about it, they've done it.

The new series of six short films has been made in Machinima: it uses the graphics technology of video games to make an entirely CGI comedy.

The first four-minute episode reveals how the show's large cast of characters awake one morning to find themselves transplanted somewhere and are not only struggling to work out how but also to even remember who they are.

Then in the second episode - The One With The Premise - we learn that they've all been set up in a slightly sinister reality game show and the series continues with them vaguely pursuing various tasks set by a Big Brother-style voiceover.

The Strangerhood
Dialogue is dubbed on to the top of the action

To say that it all looks like a cheaper version of the recent Captain Scarlet is not meant to be an insult: it is most definitely rougher and the graphics are substantially cruder but it has that CGI animated feel. For what it is, it looks very impressive.

But oddly the technology has constrained the story, too, and perhaps it always does. Gerry Anderson only made series like Thunderbirds or Supercar because his puppets were not good enough at normal walking around and in science fiction he could have them in futuristic vehicles.

In The Strangerhood, it's plainly easy to create a background and then let the game software redraw it as you get closer so we get over-long zoom shots.

The series sets out to ridicule sitcom and reality game shows in particular

Admirably, the series avoids any show-off camera moves, the kind of startling angles that you can do with an entirely CGI environment. Instead, the show almost exclusively sticks to what you'd expect from a standard American sitcom with its four cameras, its three-wall sets and its two jokes per script page.

There are many, many jokes but unfortunately there are not many laughs.

The series sets out to ridicule sitcom and reality game shows in particular but also television in general. The Big Brother voice refers to everyone as "you assorted stereotypes". When one character's thoughts are overheard, she mutters "Damn my incredibly loud internal monologue".

The Strangerhood
The series is made using The Sims 2 video game

The problem is that it feels like a hundred variations on the one same joke and the characters never develop enough to produce their own humour, they are only ever interchangeable mouthpieces.

There is no Frasier, no Chandler, no Rhoda, no Bilko: there is no one with any verve, any life.

The argument is that The Strangerhood is deliberately populated with stereotypes and that is true, it just doesn't make it funny.

Still, the majority of live-action sitcom is poor. What Machinima does is allow new people to try their hand at this difficult job.

Doubtlessly the technology will improve but it does not have to, what they have now is fine. If there is to be a second run of The Strangerhood, it's the traditional skills that need working on.

It needs better characters, better jokes and simply better storytelling.

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