Dear Riese, we need to talk …

SyFy has been promoting Riese, a web-series they acquired earlier this year. They’ve brought attention, money and a few famous names from Stargate and Battlestar Galactica to the table. What the failed to bring is a web series that I actually look forward to watching.

As a video producer and genre fan, Riese actually irritates me in a number of ways. There are actually moments watching the series where I grumble in the direction of my computer. I wanted to hold off on my criticism of the series until the “season finale” was on-line to see if the show would somehow redeem itself … and it hasn’t. Here’s my list of reasons why I won’t be eager to see Riese when it comes back next season.

Gears != Steampunk

First of all, Riese is marketed as a “steampunk series” … and it isn’t. There’s a lot of goggles and gears in this show, but there’s little steampunk. Riese is a straight-up fantasy setting which seems use the steampunk modifier for a few reasons …

  1. Steampunk is a great buzzword.
  2. Steampunk allows them to use slightly more modern buildings for their sets, even if their cultists and royalty hang out in castles.
  3. The costuming budget for steampunk is cheaper than fantasy. I can buy those hats at my local western supply store.

Aside from a few gear-wound bad guys, the only thing vaguely steampunk are the exploited kids who are straight from central castings’ “Victorian street urchin” 2010-2011 fall catalog. People who are trying to show steampunk as more than “goths in brown” would appreciate it if SyFy took the genre a bit more seriously.

Seriously, where is this place?

The weird mash-up of fantasy and steampunk worlds makes it hard to find the setting believable. The doctors dress like mad scientists and dispense drugs out of paper boxes with printed labels in a hospital standard door knobs and large glass windows. The supervillian dresses like Darth Vader built out of  watch parts and clearance items from a bondage store. The rebel fighters dress like Vikings from a  credit card commercial.

Yes, you brought a map. Why not a steampunk GPS? The problem is the map doesn’t actually help us figure out what the hell is going on. I know putting the city name over the scene as a title has been beaten to death by 24 and Fringe, but replacing it with a Photoshopped map of Europe isn’t any better.

Wait, I get it … you need the map footage to make space for the narration …

Amanda Tapping is not Mickey Spillane

Look, we love Amanda Tapping. Her Sanctuary web series, now a show on SyFY, was an awesome demonstration of how quality web content will draw a quality audience. She’s a fan favorite for her work on Stargate SG-1. But she adds nothing to Riese as a film noir style narrator.

It’s really not her fault. The narration is annoying and unnecessary … it assumes the viewer is too dumb to figure out what is going on. The story isn’t that hard to figure out, since it’s the same plot as 50% of the paperbacks featuring a princess hiding in a forest with armed attackers on her tail as a book cover (bonus points if the princess is wearing something that accentuates her royal cleavage).

Amanda and Alessandro Juliani, two known actors SyFy brought to the project, are very underutilized in Riese. Their names get fans to discover the series, but they could be adding so much more.

We want this to be good

Look, I want to get paid to make web video. I have a number of ideas on the backburner, and I’m surrounded by friends already running or just launching their latest web projects (and they need to get paid, too). This is something I care about. I wanted to like Riese, but I’d rather watch Vamped Out or Chad Vader. Actually, I am hoping Pioneer One produces another series … they’ve done something more compelling with a lot less money, and they didn’t have to spray paint any plastic gears in the process.

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