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Brothers Barbarian
Tonight's Webseries Presentation


Starring: Larry Elmore, Ken Whitman, Tim Gooch, Josh Logsdon, Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman

Written By: Ken Whitman Directed By: Tim Gooch

See It Here: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLE3A58723F22845CD

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“Let’s go to the tavern, where we’ll buy you a drink, and we shall toast to the great and mighty dragon!”

Or just forget the whole damn thing and hope a bar wench takes pity; whichever.

“Sod this.  I’m outta here.”

So, what would happen if renowned fantasy artist Larry Elmore and “Dragonlance” creators Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman lent their talents to a fantasy webseries?  The internet would simply have to explode from the resulting awesomeness, right?  Right?!

Um… no.

The only awesomeness I can attest to after watching Season One of Brothers Barbarian is the awesome desire to never watch it again... and to grab a drink.  I’m not alone in that assessment, either: by the tally of views on YouTube, half the audience thus far hasn’t bothered to go past the first episode, and even fewer have made it all the way to the end of the season (which is just six episodes long).

I’m sorry to break this to you, gamers, but Brothers Barbarian is just not good.

The story follows two brothers, Art and Russ (Tim Gooch and Ken Whitman), who have been magically transformed from strapping teenagers into bald, out-of-shape middle-agers.  In theory, it’s about their quest to find the Evil Witch who put this curse on them, at which point they hope to force her to turn them back.  In practice, they skip the intro completely and just ramble about aimlessly until the last episode-ish of Season One.  (One could argue that subplots are being developed in the interim, but the viewing experience plays otherwise.)

Watching Brothers Barbarian, I was reminded of nothing so much as when I used to get VHS screeners in the mail from people with video store dreams who’d gotten some Ren Faire buddies together for a weekend and gone nuts with the camcorder.  Yes, the production values here are somewhat better, but the core problem is still the same: while it’s abundantly clear that everyone involved has lots of heart and boundless enthusiasm for the project, Brothers Barbarian looks and feels like a bunch of cosplay pals teamed up, slapped together a script over a weekend or two, and then grabbed a couple of handicams and had at it for a month of Sundays.  I’m perfectly aware that much more effort went into it, but that’s still the way it looks and feels.  Yes, I admire the spirit here, but…

Let’s start with our two heroes.  If you’re not into the Will Ferrell/Adam Sandler “grown men who act like dense, immature boys” routine, you’ve got problems right out of the gate, because as noted, these two characters take that archetype and stretch it.  Their entire repertoire of wit consists of reveling in how stupid they are (“can’t even count!” ) and reminding everyone (especially themselves) that they’re really a pair of strapping teenagers instead of a couple of bald, overweight men [their emphasis, not mine].  Beyond that, they stumble around looking for trouble between ale runs and accomplish little else.  Compelling?  Not even if you are into the “boy-as-man” shtick, which brings up another ugly truth: the guys playing our heroes just aren’t good actors.

They’ve got heart – one could even say that they have it in spades – but at a certain point, heart is just no substitute for skill, and while what they’re doing is often called “low comedy,” the fact is that “low comedy” is hard to pull off properly.  Unfortunately, these guys have absolutely no instinct for delivery and no sense of comic timing.  Every joke is blustered the same way, and even the ones that should be funny aren’t.  Their performances aren’t a total loss – if nothing else, they’ve got the “we’re brothers” relationship dynamic down pat – but they’re nowhere near ready to play comic leads at any level… even if they do have front-of-the-line privileges as the writer and the director.

Speaking of…

I know that the list of people credited with developing the story behind Brothers Barbarian is impressive – Margaret Weis properly counts for Powerhouse Status in this genre, and she’s got friends along – but something appears to have gotten lost between the “story development” phase and Ken Whitman’s script.  Yes, there’s potential here, but it comes across as unfinished.  The first eighty percent of Season One plays like there’s no story at all, just a series of excuses to make “worst of SNL” caliber jokes.  (Sorry, guys; the stereotyped gay Orc is not funny.)  When someone finally decides to get to the real story, the transition is lame and ham-fisted, and the way that the cliffhanger episode ends makes every episode that came before feel like a waste of time.  This is definitely not what I’d have expected from a project bolstered by some of the biggest names in modern fantasy.

Meanwhile, the direction only serves to emphasize and magnify the problems.  Brothers Barbarian is a strictly point-and-shoot affair, with camera-driven atmosphere being something that happens to other webseries.  The cosplayers read (or on some occasions just plain yell) their lines, and that’s that.  Through six episodes, there is exactly one moment that feels “directed” as opposed to just being “shot” (there is a difference) – and frankly, a flower-stomping scene is not enough to make this whole webseries watchable.  (On the plus side, though, at least they knew better than to try filming combat, which is all off screen.)

Is it all groan-inducing?  Of course not.  While directorial atmospherics may be missing, physical atmosphere is not.  The costumes and weapons are definitely up to Ren Faire snuff (a good standard for web fantasy), though I admit that the otherwise decent Orc makeup is somewhat spoiled by visibly bare arms and necks.  The locations work.  The music never misses a beat; I particularly like the live band at the tavern, and even if twang isn’t your thing, the “Beverly Hillbillies” inspired closing theme has got some catchy charm to it.

And for those who are anxious to see the three old school fantasy giants at work, the good news is that they put in the three best performances.  Larry Elmore has got some presence as the Wizard, even though little advantage is taken on that score.  I may question Tracy Hickman’s choice of accent for the voice of the Puppet Dragon, but he’s got a decent sense of how to play comedy.  And Margaret Weis is genuinely fun to watch during her exceedingly brief appearance, channeling a bit of Carol Burnett and showing off the skill of someone used to reading in front of a crowd.  It’s really unfortunate that her performance is the exception and not the rule; though again, whatever else they may be lacking, absolutely everyone involved has heart and enthusiasm in abundance, and that surely counts for something, right?

Yes.  Yes, it does, and I applaud everyone involved for their efforts.  But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to recommend that anyone else sit through Brothers Barbarian.  Considering that I myself wanted to join the crowd that gave up after the first episode, how could I?  I certainly can’t after slogging through all of Season One anyway and becoming even more convinced that I don’t ever want to watch this again.  It’s not a matter of budget – there’s lots of good mini-and-micro budget stuff out there.  It’s just that no matter how many big names are behind it and no matter how much heart everyone has, the fact is that Brothers Barbarian is, well, bad

Bottom line, don’t bother with Brothers Barbarian.  You can definitely find better stuff than this.

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Season One | Six Episodes, 7.5 – 9.5 minutes each

Notes:  You may notice that what I normally call “highlights” I instead call “observations” here.  Uh-oh.  And the credits on each episode run a long time, with a bit of a coda scene always tossed in just after the cast is acknowledged.

Episode 1: “Barbarians at the Gate” – Wherein we immediately discover that the person who uploaded the video to YouTube did not double check the title that actually appears in the episode.  Beyond that promising start, we step into the Ren Faire that is the Elmore Tavern and meet our players.  Observation #1:  The leader of the Orc Army is called “Lord Brian.”  Observation #2:  I’m pretty sure that “not before he pays his tab” was supposed to be funny.  Supposed to be.  Observation #3:  Um… weren’t the Orcs supposed to be getting all nasty and taking over and such?  Lazy Orcs.  Observation #4:  I’m absolutely sure that “Sheep are the Devil’s spawn” was supposed to be funny.  Supposed to be.  Observation #5:  If nothing else, the guys playing the brothers do in fact play off each other exactly like you’d expect real brothers to, especially adolescent ones as this story claims them to be.

Episode 2: “What Ales the Brothers” – Wherein once again, there seems to be a dispute about what the episode is actually called; I’m going with what appears in the episode itself.  Beyond that, let’s meet the Orcs and see if they can avoid being killed off camera.  Observation #1:  Okay, the Orc stopping to stomp the only flower growing in camp is kinda funny.  Observation #2:  I don’t care if the Orcs talk amongst themselves in Orcish or English, but please, pick one.  Observation #3:  I’m not sure I’d want a massage – or a bottle of ale – from anyone named “Stinki,” but to each his own, I guess.  Observation #4:  “Shi poo doo doo ca.”  Yeah.  Real subtle Orcish, there.  Observation #5:  The mid credits coda goes on way longer than it needs to.

Episode 3: “Abreast of Thieves” – Wherein we agree that whoever is uploading these things just isn’t paying attention, and furthermore credit the reader with the understanding that this is going to happen every time, and that in each case, I will choose the title that’s actually printed on the screen during the episode.  Beyond that, we see if these two adolescent boys in middle aged bodies can handle dealing with women.  Place your bets.  Observation #1:  Aw, come on.  The guy playing the wizard is the best actor here.  Don’t punch him out right away!  Observation #2:  I’ve got to agree with the lady on the “front door” supposition.  Observation #3:  “OMC!” – I was about to call that clever writing, but the dialogue immediately afterward killed it.  Observation #4:  “My partner and I can’t even count.”  No argument.  Observation #5:  I should have expected that was the payment.  Yeah; they’re boys.

Episode 4: “A Clothes Call” – Wherein ‘The Party’ is given something to do, and the Wizard is up to something.  Observation #1: “Ugh, not again!”  That’s both funny and cathartic.  Observation #2:  “Ugh, are they gone?”  Better late than never with this one.  Observation #3:  “An old wizard? With a staff?” / “And a bad Southern accent!”  Okay, I wasn’t going to bring it up, but since the Orc did…  Observation #4:  “Aren’t you a little young to be drinking?”  I was wondering the same thing, but I’ve got to give credit for a great answer.  Observation #5:  The naked teleportation thing is starting to show its age.

Episode 5: “Caving in to the Dragon” – Wherein a quest is undertaken to find ‘The Puppet Dragon.’  Observation #1:  “Ew!  How much did I drink?!”  I’m thinking at least three kegs.  Observation #2:  “We just need to find this witch and get ourselves turned back into our younger selves!”  Yeah, no kidding.  Wasn’t that supposed to be this point of this aimlessness?  Observation #3:  Nice catapult.  Hey!  Why are you walking past it?  Observation #4:  Okay, I can deal with the Puppet Dragon’s puppet-ness – it’s a fun nod to the budget – but does it have to be a stereotyped ghetto dragon?  And do you know who that is?  Observation #5:  I really hope those were plot points, because this thing needs to move forward.

Episode 6: “Lanced… A Lot” – Wherein – no this can’t be right – the Brothers meet the Witch?!  Is the story moving forward?!  Observation #1:  Okay, the Dragon Puppet making his point is funny.  Observation #2:  Diggin’ the live bar band.  Seriously.  Observation #3:  “She’s in her room upstairs.”  Really?  Cue facepalm.  Observation #4:  Hey, look who’s playing the Witch!  Observation #5:  She’s rather cool, especially with the flask.  HEY WAIT!!!   DOH!!!!

And with that… well… it was a season.  Even if they do make another one, I’m not coming back to see it, because no matter who’s involved or how much heart they’ve got… Brothers Barbarian is just a headache to watch.

- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, September, 2012

More From The Bar! | JourneyQuest | Glitch | Conan the Barbarian (2011) |

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