Thursday, July 11, 2013

Why Holliston Matters

by Patrick Bromley

We don't often talk about TV shows at F This Movie!, because it's too much work to change the name of the site. But Holliston is a show created, written, directed by and starring two movie directors, so I thought it ok to bring up. If tomorrow ABC started airing a buddy cop show starring Steven Spielberg and Werner Herzog, we would have to acknowledge it. Also, I want to watch that show. Tell ABC.

I'm a big fan of Adam Green and Joe Lynch. They're funny, positive, accessible guys who work insanely hard and know their shit. I want them to succeed because I want to see more from them. Maybe it's because I like both of them that I've become such a big fan of Holliston, the FEARnet sitcom on which both produce and star and which Green writes, directs and oversees. Or maybe it's because I've become such a fan of Holliston that I like Green and Lynch so much (this scenario is less likely, only because I have always liked them both). My point is that if I have any dog in the Holliston fight, it's that I want it to be successful so that Green and Lynch continue to make movies and TV. But this isn't just about how I like the show and think it's good (I do). It's about why it's fucking important.

If you aren't yet familiar with their work, Green wrote and directed the first two Hatchet films (he wrote and produced the third, which is currently playing in limited release and via On Demand), as well as the psychological thriller Spiral and the excellent suspense/horror movie Frozen. Joe Lynch is the director of Wrong Turn 2, the rare horror sequel that's much better than the original (and was released DTV, no less), as well as the as-yet-unreleased Knights of Badassdom, the best movie we may never get to see.

Over a decade in the making, Holliston follows the exploits of wannabe horror directors Adam (Green) and Joe (Lynch), best friends and hosts of a basic cable horror showcase called "The Movie Crypt." They're totally broke, don't have a ton of prospects and are desperately trying to find the funding to make a soccer-themed horror movie called Shinpads. They're not even trying to get the movie made at this point -- they're just trying to scrounge enough money to make a trailer, which they hope will get them the money to make the feature. Also factoring into the show are Laura (Ortiz), Joe's adorably odd girlfriend; aspiring country singer Corri (English), the girl who broke Adam's heart but who now wants to be "just friends"; Lance Rockett (Dee Snider), the boys' sexually ambiguous boss at the TV station who is stuck in the '80s and sings in the Van Halen cover band Diver Down and Oderus Urungus (from GWAR, playing himself), an alien that lives in Adam's closet that only he can see. Oh, and Axl, a cat with feline Down syndrome.
That last one might sound like a quirk too many, but it is based on Green's actual cat. A lot of the story of Holliston actually draws from Green's real life, written after going through a particularly difficult breakup with his girlfriend (represented by the Corri character; in real life, her name was Laura, which gets confusing). The autobiographical story was originally conceived as a $400 independent feature that Green actually shot called Coffee & Donuts. The pitch for a sitcom version was sold to UPN in the early 2000s but went nowhere, much like UPN itself. When the cable network FEARnet approached Green about developing the channel's first original series, the opportunity to resurrect the decade-plus idea finally presented itself.

Why does this matter? Because Green didn't pitch a horror show. It would have been easy to suggest doing some sort of horror anthology show, particularly because it would have allowed Green to maybe write and direct the pilot episode before handing off the reins to a bunch of other filmmakers -- Tales from the Crypt or Masters of Horror or Fear Itself all over again. And maybe that wouldn't have been so bad (I love a horror anthology), but choosing to do Holliston is far more interesting because it forces horror fans -- a notoriously narrow-focused group -- to embrace something outside of their usual comfort zone. The emphasis is not on blood or gore (though there is some of that), but instead on dialogue and jokes. The series certainly shares the DNA of many horror movies in terms of its tone and its humor, but it asks the horror audience to invest in story and character instead of kills. They have to care about people rather than just how they die. It forces the established horror audience to confront something new while still giving them some of the things they love.

In this area, the show has only improved in its second season, turning into a kind of Larry Sanders Show for horror icons, where established genre stars can go to poke fun of their images. So we get Danielle Harris as an awful narcissist who lets Adam think he has a shot at fucking her so she can steal money and Oxycotin from him. We get Kane Hodder as a depressed version of himself, on constant suicide watch because he wasn't asked to be in Freddy vs. Jason (I was truly hoping that Hodder would become a series regular in Season Two, but that isn't happening). Bailee Madison, the young star of Don't be Afraid of the Dark, does a turn as Adam's girlfriend, a 12-year old pretending to be 21 to trick him into fucking her and then blackmailing him to commit murder. It's become a place for horror stars to go and send up their images, having fun with the idea that they are in real life much worse than the monsters they play. It's also a clever way to rope in the horror audience without literally having to throw them a lot of red meat.
When it first debuted, Holliston took a beating from some critics, who were none too pleased with Green's deliberate efforts to recreate the conventions of every sitcom every made, from the single apartment set to the incessant (and obviously fake) laugh track. But there was another, more troublesome undercurrent to some of the backlash, which carried with it a vibe of "Who the fuck does he think he is?" Green shouldn't be doing a sitcom, they said, because he was just some horror movie director (and more than one of them seized the opportunity to take swipes at the Hatchet series while they were at it). That's because in Hollywood, you're usually allowed to only do one thing -- and horror gets ghettoized more than any other genre. Making matters worse was the fact that Green was stepping out of one disrespected art form -- the horror film -- for the sitcom, an art form that's possibly respected even less.

With the instant cult success of Hatchet, Adam Green could have very quickly been pigeonholed as just the "Victor Crowley" guy. That happens a lot in horror, where the audience is only interested in sequelizing the thing they like and not necessarily in following filmmakers through different kinds of projects. While both Spiral and Frozen, Green's non-Hatchet films, have their own cult followings, he's still best known for his slasher output -- even Hatchet III, which he wrote but did not direct, is being credited almost entirely to him. Perhaps sensing that phenomenon taking place, Green shifted gears and threw himself 100% into his TV series (though even that is more likely the result of it being a passion project he's been trying to get off the ground for more than 10 years). Without leaving Victor Crowley completely behind -- he even makes a cameo during Season One -- Green has redefined himself as "the Holliston guy." It makes sense, too, since the series basically culls from his real life. He's "the Holliston guy" because he IS the Holliston guy.

So Green is branching out and doing something different, working overtime to bring his audience along with him. Few directors known for making horror movies have ever successfully accomplished such a feat, meaning Green has an uphill battle in front of him. Holliston represents a turning point for Green in that its failure could easily have led to a retreat back to horror (Green choosing to make another horror film is not automatically a "retreat," by the way; making another horror film just because it might be safe would be). That the show is already a success is a good sign, proving that Green and Lynch are capable of more than just directing horror -- not that I wouldn't be happy seeing them do that for their entire careers -- and that their fans are willing to stick with them as they take chances.
Previous modes of distribution are changing and giving way to alternative distribution, where TV series can be canceled from a network and be revived on Netflix (Arrested Development) or online (like ABC's slate of daytime soaps). Original series are created directly for Netflix or for web sites -- and in some cases, series created for the web get turned into series for a network (Children's Hospital). There is no single "right" way to get stuff out there anymore, which is the entire reason Holliston exists in the first place. This is a show that only a couple million people are able to watch live as it airs, provided their cable service carries FEARnet. Several million more (like myself) can access it the following day when it appears on FearNET On Demand. The rest have to wait 48 hours until it shows up on FEARNet's website. One show, three platforms, three "tiers" of when it's available -- to say nothing of the eventual DVD and Blu-ray release. There are no ratings numbers available for this model, no way to tell how many people are actually watching. There is only word of mouth.

Because Holliston is so personal, because it is so grassroots, because it isn't on a major network or available in every home in America, Green and Lynch have worked their asses off to get the word out. They're on Twitter and Facebook, talking to fans. They're doing live chats while the episodes air. They're recording commentaries and shooting special features for the DVD releases. They doing radio and podcast interviews. They've even started their own podcast, "The Movie Crypt with Adam and Joe," over at Geek Nation, which is now my second favorite movie podcast on the internet. They spend a good portion of each podcast talking about the recent episode of Holliston. Short of going door to door and asking people to watch, they're doing everything they can to get the word out on the show.

Because this is what it takes now.

We live in the DIY Age, when someone in his bedroom can make a movie on a phone and distribute it on YouTube at the same time that Zach Braff goes online to raise money from fans to make his next feature. Even with the resources of FEARnet at their disposal (and yes, the resources of FEARnet are VAST), even with two successful horror directors with their own built-in fan bases at its center, Holliston needs all the help it can get. Nothing is a sure thing anymore, and a low-budget sitcom on a barely accessible network not known for a) sitcoms or b) original programming starring two cult horror movie directors is not quite a sure thing. So they've opened up the experience and have documented every aspect of it for their fans.
Green and Lynch didn't invent this approach; Kevin Smith has been doing something similar for years, talking to fans and documenting the experience of making his movies on blogs and each of his 37 podcasts. And it's been very effective for him. As mainstream popularity has gradually faded away, Smith's fan base has become stronger, more tightly knit and devoted than ever. He has brought them into the process, and that kind of reciprocity is necessary when you want to launch your own projects or four-wall the release of Red State. Green and Lynch are doing the same thing with Holliston, creating an ongoing dialogue with the audience as a means of building not just an audience, but a community (and as someone with a movie website, I know about the importance of community). At a time when media is dividing audiences into smaller and smaller fragments while still attempting to mass-market entertainment so that it appeals to EVERYONE (see: most of the movies released this summer), Green and Lynch's approach is quietly revolutionary. They're actually taking the time and having the patience to build a fan base instead of just assuming one is there.

Holliston matters because it's changing the rules for how things are done, while at the same time underscoring just how hard it is to get something off the ground even with some money, resources and name recognition. Whether or not it will ultimately be mentioned in the same sentences as projects like The Guild, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog and maybe even House of Cards remains to be seen; should FEARnet not pick up the show for a third season, Green has insisted that there will still be one (his company, ArieScope, owns the show). Whether that's just online, on Netflix or released directly to DVD or Blu-ray I can't say, but it will continue to evolve and to adapt to the changing marketplace. It will continue to matter -- especially to its fans.

Holliston has been great for me not just because I like the show, but because it's given me more access to Green and Lynch, two guys I could listen to goof around and talk about the filmmaking process all day. Their willingness to pound the pavement and make the show work is an inspiration to any of us trying to something going. They've made a sitcom that works as a sitcom and as a thing that deconstructs the sitcom. A weekly celebration of horror, of persevering and of finding support in your friends. You don't have to love Holliston, but the fact that it exists at all should give us hope. Thanks, Adam and Joe.


  1. This is John, but I'm posting from my phone so anon it is.

    Kudos, Patrick. That was an incredibly heartfelt, genuine and effective paean/defense/sales pitch. I had no idea this series was a thing, and now I do. So, mission accomplished on that front.

    And yeah, I'm growing weary of how lazy some critics have gotten lately. Spiteful buzzword swipes have replaced thoughtful critique on the basis of a film or show's merits-- some reviews of Pacific Rim in particular reek of this. What ever happened to reasoned argumentation? Thankfully podcasts like F This Movie still exist (BOOM, segue!), because you all still clearly care and have integrity. Even when I disagree with you, I can see your points and respect your reasoning.

    Again, nice article. Thanks for writing it!

  2. Get out of my head!

    I was just thinking earlier today what my next TV injection would be now that Mad Men, Would I Lie To You and Parks & Rec had finished but Breaking Bad, Peep Show and Alan Partridge (MMM) were yet to start.

    I hope I like this. Thanks for the heads up.

  3. Just called DirectV to complain about not getting FEARnet after reading this since they sadly don't carry it yet.

  4. Well said. Adam and Joe willingness to interact with the fans makes them more real. Which makes me qant to watch everything they do.

  5. Awesome article. I absolutely love this show, and admit I was a bit sceptical about the whole "horror sitcom" thing at first, even though I was a fan of Adam Green and Joe Lynch. I took my chances, and after buying the first season on Dvd on eBay (I'm in Canada so couldn't watch it any other way), I was laughing more than any other sitcom the whole way through the season. I was very pleasantly surprised, and now I just have to wait patiently until season 2 comes out on dvd, while everyone talks about how good season 2 is. But its worth it!

    1. Thanks! I'm so not trying to rub it in, but Season 2 really is a pretty big leap forward. You've got a lot of great stuff to look forward to. And thanks for reading!

  6. Holliston is hands down my favorite show on television, which to me is saying a lot because Bates Motel is on television right now and it is amazing. I switched cable providers in October and I literally spent 20 minutes talking with Uverse on the phone about whether or not I'd still get to watch Holliston if I switched networks (the answer is Yes BTW, the ep.s are uploaded on Wednesdays on demand, you just have to search for it). I would have sacrificed the better quality and lower rates if it meant I wouldn't be able to watch this one show on my giant T.V., and I watch A LOT of television. I have also been a fan of Adam's since the beginning, when I saw the trailer he made for Hatchet before he even started production on the movie. I have met him several times (as a fan) and he is the nicest, most appreciative guy in show business, he really is the same guy as his "character," on Holliston. If you are a fan, of horror, comedy or have ever been a super fan of ANYTHING (regardless of what it is) you will relate to these characters. It is impossible not to fall in love with all 4 of the main characters on this show. I feel like it is different from any show I've seen, and I'd like nothing better than if it remained on the air for 50 years even if the last 10 episodes were center around Adam and Joe in a retirement home. "In Market Basket We Shop."
    -Meghan Johnson

    1. Wait, are you saying "MARket Basket" or "Market BASket?"

      Thanks for commenting, Meghan!

  7. I bought season one on dvd based off my affection for these two directors. I think it was six dollars on Amazon.

    Even if I am not always the biggest fan of their released work, because I like them as people (based off me meeting them at several conventions) and their commentaries (Friday the 13th IV is a must listen), I bought this.

    I have only seen the first episode so far and the laugh track bothered me a little. However, this article has inspired me to spin it in the dvd player a little longer and finish it out.

    Looking forward to seeing season 2 after reading your comments, Patrick.

  8. As my fellow (anonymous) Canadian noted above, I unfortunately don't have access to FEARnet (but fishing nets, oh, we have those coming out the yin yang) so I have no quick way to get my hands on this show (other than THAT way) but I may also go the eBay/Amazon route - you've certainly piqued my curiousity.

    1. Hey, just searched the inventory at my movie rental place and they've got Season 1, so I'll check it out soon for sure.

    2. Sweet. Let us know what you think!

    3. Reporting back! Firstly, I was able to rent Season 1, but before that I listened to a few of The Movie Crypt podcasts and became an Adam and Joe fan just from those. They really do seem like a couple of genuinely nice, hard-working guys and though the Kane Hodder episode I listened to first had a bit too much "You're great. No, YOU'RE great. No, YOU'RE great!" it was good enough to bring me back for more.

      Speaking of shaky starts, I got down to watching Holliston last night and the first few minutes before I really caught on to the gag had me wondering about you, Patrick, but once I realized, for example, that the laugh track was part of the joke (I forgot you had referred to it as "obviously fake" so it took me a couple minutes), I really started digging it. Watched the first few episodes and then the first again with audio commentary (highly recommended) and looking forward to the rest. Bummed that Season 2 isn't available in any buyable form in Canada yet so not sure how/when I'll get to those, but you're absolutely right - this is a show that matters and I want to support it for sure.

      Thanks Patrick - your second best recommendation since the Fast and the Furious franchise!

    4. Excellent! Thanks for giving it a shot, Sol. Everyone's mileage may vary, but I'm glad to hear you're enjoying it. It's the kind of show that you like the more you watch, so sticking with it is important. And Season Two really is an improvement, so you should seek that out once it hits DVD and Blu-ray -- if just for the commentaries, as you pointed out.

  9. Adam and Joe rock, I'm a big fan of these guys on the podcast and I buy all there movies, Frozen being a favourite, and Wrong Turn 2, also the Scary Sleepover is great fun,