There is no primetime online. So it makes sense that the Emmys have yet to delve too deeply into the widening world of Web series, though a few have popped up in variously named "interactive program" or "short format" categories. Zach Galifianakis's crushingly awkward interview with President Obama on "Between Two Ferns" just scored a trophy for short-format live-action entertainment program at the Creative Arts Emmys last Saturday. And Web series also get recognition through niche awards like the Streamys, the Webbys, and various honors from various guilds.
But the expanding field and increasing quality of Web series deserve a closer look. What follows are some picks for the best series and performances to emerge online during this last Emmy eligibility period.
BEST ACTOR, DRAMA
Dylan Marron, "Whatever This Is"
Marron's character, Ari — a financially strapped gay Latino reality-television sound guy — specializes in life on the periphery. But Marron's performance is at the center of Adam Goldman's charming drama, and he shares with his character a sense of potential seeking release. Especially impressive is Marron's ease with expressing the crisscrossing tensions of race, sexuality, and privilege without ever coming off like a symbol for any of them.
BEST ACTRESS, DRAMA
Ann Carr, "The Actress"
There are plenty of cringey chuckles to be had watching "The Actress," written by Carr and Warren Holstein. But three seasons in, the doldrums of Carr's Hannah have deepened into something more like despair, and the sense of time running out is as evident in her face as it is on the clock on the YouTube clip. Carr has also done clickworthy work in episodes of "Little Horribles," "F to 7th," and "Jack in a Box."
BEST ACTOR, COMEDY
Michael Showalter, "American Viral"
Showalter's Roger Busk is desperate to sustain his family's fleeting Internet fame after a clip he posted of his son getting hit in the crotch goes viral. Showalter is pitch-perfect as a man stumbling into his 15 minutes just in time for it to be downsized to 15 seconds.
BEST ACTRESS, COMEDY
Ashley Blaine Featherson, "Hello Cupid"
The Web series world is crammed with high-quality two-gal comedies ("Be Here Nowish," "K&A," and the whole stack of pre-Comedy Central "Broad City," to name but a few), but Featherson's Whitney is endlessly endearing as a girl on the hunt for a guy who "gets his hair cut twice a week, has his own bank account, and doesn't like Tyler Perry movies." "Hello Cupid" joins a raft of other instantly addictive shows on Black & Sexy, including "That Guy," "Yellow," "Roomieloverfriends," and "The Couple" (which is now in development by HBO).
Honorable mention: Natalia Leite and Alexandra Roxo, "Be Here Nowish"; Ingrid Jungermann, "F to 7th"; Amy York Rubin, "Little Horribles "; Becky Yamamoto, "Uninspired"; Nicole Byer and Sasheer Zamata, "Pursuit of Sexiness"
Writer/director Adam Goldman (born and raised in Needham and Newton, as it happens) first wowed viewers with "The Outs," a series that raised many a bar for the form with its depth and polish. With "Whatever This Is," Goldman takes us behind the veneer of reality — television, that is. Following two chronically broke reality-TV production assistants, Ari and Sam, and Sam's girlfriend, Lisa, the smartly cast, beautifully shot, and cleverly scripted "Whatever This Is" is a show about what we want, what we settle for, and how hard it can be to tell the difference.
BEST WEB SERIES, COMEDY
"F to 7th"
Created, written by, and starring Ingrid Jungermann — who was behind the fantastic 2012 series "The Slope" — "F to 7th" follows Ingrid, a middle-age lesbian in New York getting her bearings, as the identity she found footing on is upended by a world of shifting sexualities and gender politics. Sounds serious and nichey, and it is, but it's also funny and universal. Jungermann's humor is a perfect blend of hard and soft, knowingness and uncertainty. It's a mode well suited to her deadpan delivery, and it brings out the best in a talented coterie of guest stars, including Amy Sedaris, Ann Carr, Olympia Dukakis, Stewart Thorndike, Casey Legler, and Gaby Hoffmann.
BEST WEB SERIES, DRAMA
As a pot dealer known only as "the guy," Ben Sinclair (above, left) dips in and out of each episode of "High Maintenance," dropping in, dropping off, and sometimes digging a little deeper into the lives of his clients before rushing off to his next situation. But far from some fishbowled, munchie-driven weed comedy, the real spark of "High Maintenance" (created and largely written by the husband/wife team of Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld) is in its beautifully detailed studies of characters doing what it takes to get by — whether that means shutting off from the world, or joining a cult, or compulsively ordering delivery, or smoking a joint. Sinclair and Blichfeld have a way of casting stunning light on our deepest idiosyncrasies. If it's your first time, be warned: It's powerful stuff.