Much like community college students, video gamers have been saddled with an unfair, largely negative-skewing reputation by the pop culture firmament. Why compare community college students and video gamers, though? Well, the CW’s new show Dead Pixels instantly calls to mind the long-running NBC series Community. Does this have the staying power of Dan Harmon’s smash success sitcom, or will we be hitting the “reset” button and looking for something else to watch on Tuesdays? Read on below…
DEAD PIXELS: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: Four people playing badminton. One of them gets a call, saying that it’s urgent that she gets home and gets on the video game Kingdom Scrolls, right away. “Blackfinger! Blackfiger’s on fire!” the voice says.
The Gist: Meg Jefferies (Alexa Davies) is on a double date set up by her roommate and best friend Alison (Charlotte Ritchie), but the call about Blackfinger from Nicky Kettle (Will Merrick) is super urgent. And as much as she’d like to continue with the date like a normal person might, she decides to run out and sit by her computer to help Nicky try to salvage the castle.
This is the pretty much the lives of Meg, Nicky and the other member of their team, Usman (Sargon Yelda), a dad who seems content with letting his daughter’s eyes dry out while putting her in a makeshift cage (a playpen with a lid on top) in order to play the game. Both Meg and Nicky play the MMORPG at home and at work, somehow not being detected by their bosses. Unlike Nicky, though, who lives for the tiny dopamine hit whenever his character powers up a level, Meg is really interested in smashing with someone. “My vagina is like a rare Pennyblack bleeeeeeeeeeep,” she says. (We’ll get to the bleep part in a second.)
A new engineer, Russel (David Mumeni) comes in for his first day in the office, and Meg is already attracted to him. After an awkward intro, she shows him the game and he loves it. As a weird way of flirting, she send him the link to their group.
Of course, his entry into the group (as a massive woman warrior) disrupts the finely tuned machine. While the group is “grinding,” killing bears in order to get enough points to re-arm themselves, Russel goofs around and acts like a big old kid (as if he, you know, is enjoying himself). But when Nicky and Meg realize that Russel is buying objects with actual cash money, Nicky hatches a plan to ambush Russel, mug him and steal all of his loot — in the game, of course. Meg has a dilemma: she really wants to shag Russel, so should she mug him in the game? She posits this theory to Alison, who’s chagrined that her old friend will do this but Meg disapproves of her taking up the flute.
When Usman’s wife comes home to the horrible scene he created (despite his declaration that “child care is easy,”), he bows out of the mugging. But the other two do the deed, and when Meg sees Russel at work the next day, he’s downtrodden. Apparently, he gets mugged a lot, “once in my own kitchen!”. She feels bad for him and tells him they’ll give him his stuff back.
But back to the game: They approach the rebuilt castle, which means they’re almost at the end of the game. Is this a point of victory or bittersweet, considering Meg has spent two years of her life in this quest?
Our Take: Dead Pixels, written by Jon Brown, is supposed to show that gamers aren’t nerdy hermits that would rather communicate with other people via headsets and avatars. The first episode tries to show this a bit, especially via Meg, who tells Alison that “you need to feed the beast in the basement. She needs her nutrients and she is growling.” It seems like every time Meg references her needy vagina is when the first episode has its biggest laughs.
We’re hoping that those funny moments will carry through as we see the main characters’ inner lives away from their monitors. As it is, though, it feels like the portrait of three single people — and Usman, who kinda wishes he was single — letting a MMORPG fill in the massive gaps in their lives, and it doesn’t matter whether we see them IRL or interacting with each other inside the game. It feels like their lives are always about “grinding,” whether it’s killing bears or sitting in their cubicles.
We’ve been here before: this show is more or less Community, just with a game substituting for a third-rate community college. These people have the game to bind their friendship together, even if they don’t want to admit it. The reason why they’re so into the game is that they’re so into the bond they have with each other. But the first episode makes their lives seem empty and sad, and we’re not 100% sure they’re going to move beyond that.
The show was received well-enough in England to get a second season on the E4 channel, so perhaps we’ll see some character evolution by the end of season one. What we do hope is that the main characters are shown away from their screens a little more; that doesn’t make for compelling TV.
We also have a complaint that has nothing to do with the quality of the show, but where it’s airing here in the states. We’ll get to that below.
Sex and Skin: Except for all of Meg’s talk about her horniness, there’s nothing.
Parting Shot: Nicky looks at a napkin that he and Meg signed as a pact to finish the game together. Then Meg decides to get a tea, opens the door to the next bedroom and asks Nicky if he wants any. What? They’ve been living in the same apartment this whole time?
Sleeper Star: We think this needs to go to the costume designer who found all of Meg’s frumpy-but-cute outfits. This woman has a ton of overalls, with pants or skirts, and somehow she pulls the look off.
Most Pilot-y Line: Because this show is on the CW instead of a streaming platform, it’s heavily bleeped. But there are so many bleeps, some of them are a couple of seconds long and obliterate any of the funny — and bawdy — dialogue the person is saying. We bet the episode would have been 20% funnier if we were allowed to hear those lines. We’re not sure why The CW first imported it for CW Seed, so it may be better to watch it there instead of on broadcast, where a tenth of the dialogue is obscured.
Our Call: STREAM IT. We’re a bit concerned that the main characters in Dead Pixels aren’t going to rise above how pathetic they are in the first episode. But the episode was funny enough (despite the bleeps) that we have hope that these people will be shown to have a life beyond just an MMORPG.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, VanityFair.com, Playboy.com, Fast Company.com, RollingStone.com, Billboard and elsewhere.