We recently reported on Snapchat’s somewhat unexpected dive into original content. With the launch of its new “Discover” feature, Snapchat has begun releasing its own homemade content as content from established media brands like CNN, National Geographic, and Vice. It’s an interesting turn for Snapchat which is, at its core, a messaging app. That’s why I was excited this weekend to check out the first episode of Snapchat’s first original series Literally Can’t Even, titled “Sip & Surf Party XXX.” Unfortunately, the series title matched up more or less perfectly with my reaction.
Content aside, Snapchat’s signature gimmick may also be this series’ biggest challenge. To use the vernacular of the show, I “literally couldn’t even” find it! Snapchat’s claim to fame is ephemeral picture messaging. All content is temporary, snaps from friends disappear after a few seconds and even the longer-lived Snapchat stories vanish over time. While it’s an effective hook for a messaging app, it’s not really a great way to serve up scripted content. The first episode of Literally dropped on Friday and by Saturday it had already disappeared forever. I had to track down a bootleg copy on YouTube in order to watch. (That video has since been pulled.) In this post-streaming world, audiences don’t want to be told when to watch. Snapchat would be wise to make these episodes available in a more permanent format, as it’s difficult to build an audience if there’s no way for new fans to catch up.
The show is also just plain too long. Snapchat has billed Literally as a micro-comedy with each episode clocking in at roughly five minutes. That doesn’t seem like such a long time until you remember that, in keeping with the rules of Snapchat, you have to keep your thumb glued to the screen the whole time. It’s particularly hard to maintain your grip when the show spends all of its five minutes serving up lukewarm jokes and some very dubious acting. Unfortunately the show manages to land right in the dark crevice between bad-but-self-aware and so-bad-that-it’s-good. The jokes land flat and the acting is weak, but an editor clearly had fun adding some ambitious transitions to at least make it look cool so…there’s that.
Sasha Spielberg (right) with parents actress Kate Capshaw and Director Steven Spielberg
A lot of critics have been quick to dismiss Literally Can’t Even with charges of nepotism. Series creators Sasha Spielberg and Emily Goldwyn, daughters of director Steven and producer John respectively, are nothing short of Hollywood royalty. I went into this with an open mind, but having seen the first episode it’s hard not to feel that both ladies earned the gig on the strength of their pedigrees rather then their comedic chops or new media savvy.
Webseries Creators Ashley Skidmore and Lyle Friedman of Hot Mess Moves
For subject matter, the show goes to a place that has been successfully mined by several webseries-turned-TV shows in the past: the social awkwardness of being a twenty-something woman. Critics have described Literally as “a west coast version of Girls” and “Sex and the City for Snapchat,” depending mostly on how close to retirement age they are. If I was forced to compare it to a TV show I’d call it “Broad City done badly,” and that’s clearly the vibe the creators were going for. A more accurate comparison would be sleeper hit web show Hot Mess Moves. The YouTube series follows creator-stars Ashley Skidmore and Lyle Friedman on 1-2 minute adventures in millennial awkwardness. Literally is definitely a cousin if not an outright ripoff of Hot Mess. If you watch a few episodes of Hot Mess Moves and find yourself wishing it was both longer and less funny, then Literally Can’t Even is definitely for you.
Vine star Brittany Furlan
I never thought I’d find myself saying this, but the project would have been far better off in the hands of a Vine star. Viners are intimately familiar with the kind of short-form, ephemeral content that Snapchat is aiming for and many have a social following that they could steer toward the project to help solve the discovery problem. Snapchat was once rumored to have recruited Vine megastar Jerome Jarre to boost engagement. Now would have been a great time to make another play for one of Vine’s big names. This project would have been much sharper with Brittany Furlan or Jessi Smiles at the helm.
It’s not hard to tell that Literally Can’t Even didn’t exactly win me over. There’s a lot going on here and not much of it is going right, but I am impressed that Snapchat is taking a shot at something that’s not in their comfort zone. As for the creators of Literally, they didn’t knock it out of the park, but they’re the first to suit up for an entirely new game and I do give them some credit for that. I can’t say I’m looking forward to the next episode but I’ll definitely be watching. After all, even if I totally hate it, it’ll disappear forever after 24 hours. That’s kind of a dream come true.