Tom Hanks’ ELECTRIC CITY Web Series Review

by     Posted 2 years, 37 days ago


Every so often a new web series comes out that is heralded as an “all new type of interactive experience!”  It’s not.  Increasingly though, networks are doggedly putting money behind webisodes that supplement their main content (like FOX did partnering with AT&T to release the Touch-offshoot web series Daybreak this summer).  Interacting with televisions shows over the internet and through other media is nothing new – we do it with our fan forums and sub-reddits and frantic “did you just see that??” texts to friends.  The difference here is that there is a desire to both control and quantify that experience through specifically supported forums and other tie-ins that are created and moderated by the network or studio.  Again though, what else is new?

What makes the upcoming Electric City interesting - it being the latest attempt at a mainstream web series - is Tom Hanks.  For more on the project (which is hosted by Yahoo! and will be paired with apps that offer a related role-playing game as well as digital comic books to expand the mythology, etc – that’s the “interactive” part), and my take on its first ten episodes, hit the jump.

tom-hanks-imageTom Hanks serves not only as the creative force behind the scenes of the dystopian series, but also lends his voice to its lead character.  The series has a sci-fi bent to it, taking place in a world that reminds one strongly of The Hunger Games, but with less pomp and more graphic deaths.  Citizens of Electric City are rigidly controlled by the sort of governing body that requires applications to allow childbirth.  More than anything, energy consumption is heavily monitored.  Resistance movements attempt to illegally tap into the main system and even begin creating something like wireless.  They are dealt with swiftly and with deadly force by those in control – who happen to be a knitting circle of nannies.

This type of series isn’t something one might necessarily expect from Hanks, who has built his reputation on far more comedic and heartwarming fare.  But Hanks actually conceived of and wrote Electric City himself.  The early word was that his partnership with Yahoo – who has been looking to get more into the web video market – was because the “business-as-usual” Hollywood-types weren’t as open to such creative experimentation.

The other possibility is that they didn’t find the series all that fantastic.  There is something about Electric City that’s inherently engaging. All of the pieces are there – dystopian society, fascist regime, the underdog resistance, a jaded anti-hero at its core – and maybe that’s part of the problem.  Though the specifics of Electric City may be somewhat fresh, its conceits are certainly not.  There’s a familiarity to every piece of dialogue, such as that old refrain “ask no questions and you will be told no lies,” and a non-ironic romantic-setting use of “where have you been all my life?”  I half expected the grizzled Hanks-voiced character Cleland Car – a rogue, naturally – to be asked to turn in a gun and badge with him muttering, “take it, I don’t need no stinkin’ badge to serve justice in my town.”

electric-cityTwenty episodes averaging five minutes each will be released over three consecutive days, starting July 17th, exclusively online.  Though Yahoo wants users to interact with the world, the timeframe in which the webisodes are released won’t allow for much of that, especially because the world is particularly difficult to come to grips with.  Electric City incorporates a map to show where each mini story takes places, much like the opening sequence of Game of Thrones (“meanwhile, back on Pyke …”).  But the stories themselves take place with such dizzying pace the map doesn’t particularly help with spacial orientation.  The same is true with the character arcs – after watching ten episodes I didn’t find any of the characters to be more than one-dimensional, but how could they be?  There was no time!

Having read about the interactive features that will be paired with the series, I saw how the series’ purposeful obfuscation could be helpful in directing viewers – out of necessity if not desire – to read supporting materials in order to understand what, exactly, is going on.  Still, call me old-fashioned, but I want most of my info upfront in the series I’m watching, and don’t want to have to scour the internet for homework.

electric-city-tom-hanksThe curiosity of Hanks’ involvement is probably reason enough to give Electric City a go; and given the marketing, it seems Yahoo is making a very strong bet that’s the case.  Electric City also offers puzzles and codes within it that fans of mystery-laden series will enjoy, and there will likely be plenty of viewers who enjoy it specifically for its old-school limited animation style.  But with its trite dialogue and confusing presentation, it may not quite be “the” interactive webseries that finally breaks through to the mainstream.

The first episodes will air July 17th on Yahoo’s Electric City launch page.


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  • autumn

    Allison, I’m glad you wrote this review. It cleared up a lot. I saw the first episode and I agree with all that you have written. I first wondered what inspired Tom Hanks to do Electric City. Ok, so Yahoo wants to be on the cutting edge of what appears to be a growing interest in web series. I think it will hold the interest of young teens. There is a lot of bad dialouge, but if web series continues and begins to catch on, I can see students interested in Media using it for audition tapes.

  • scott

    I can tell you’ve barely watched enough episodes to review this mundane, boring, ego-centric vehicle of Hanks’ to do so throughly.

    I could write a lot. But won’t, because, much like this series it’s just not worth the time. Suffice it to say that the writing is terribly, terribly weak and for all their combined financial resources ( yahoos and hanks ), there are still many ‘under the hood’ UI glitches such as lagtime drawing to the screen properly and hanging between info and ‘cinematic’ mode. Which isn’t cinematic AT ALL.

    The minute I heard Hanks’ voice as the handsome, 30 year old LEAD character in stunning physical shape for even a comic book hero, the credibility meter really sunk. It’s obvious that Hanks is long since past being the age of a leading male in film so what better way to grab at a sense of eternal youth than doing what he’s done since being a Christmas train conductor? Many actors long in the tooth choose this but this is a particularly wrong choice because Hanks voice is too unique to establish his voice with the lead character of this rather bland and predictable series.

    Not to mention I can imagine cries of racism or sexism coming along. Many of the women are ‘maternally stereotyped’ and a black boatman has the vocal drawl of “yoo bes’ bee gettin’ on dis here boat noww.’. Srsly? In 2012?

    The landscape art is gorgeous. The writing is horrific.

  • DEE

    The title “Electric City” draws you in, but leaves much to be desired. The name indirectly takes you back to a ‘matrix’ feel expecting some dark, grim, metal and cold atmosphere, yet there are many trees and breath taking landscapes, which i do fancy, btw. I just feel that this series’ whole ‘deep future aura’ described by Hanks in an interview has something missing and should be more deeply explored. Some may disagree, but in my opinion..who wants to see a third and fourth generation, ‘post apocalyptic era’ that looks exactly like things do now, but with more landscapes? Especially at the rate we’re going, it’s just not ‘believable.’ I randomly clicked on an episode (I think like episode 7 or something) and while visually stunning, the dialogue seemed to drag and the action was few and far between, almost non-existent. So I then go back to episode 1, and 5 minutes never seemed song long..a last come the end a brief moment action. Swing, kick, neck break…then another long still, pan shot. Then a ‘forest gump’ piano style outro, over black and white credits. come ooooon. Hanks’ is a thinker, and a brilliant one at that. I see where he’s going with it but he has to stretch his legs a little more with this one. Especially with animation. Unless you’re talking about comedy; people naturally want to see the extra-ordinary, super human, or a mixture of both. So overall, as an individual viewer; I’ll need more, to want more. So far this series seems about as flexible as a dead tree branch.

  • Jane

    This didn’t lose anything for me just because Tom Hanks or whoever made himself a hot lookng comic book character. lol I noted it and moved on. Hell if I was gonna make my own cartoon, I would make myself hotter too! I like this story for what it is.. I didn’t think it was bad, it was entertaining and I enjoyed it.

  • Seander Lea

    I wish Electric City had close captions! Tom has a soft speaking voice anyway and some of other characters do to. I am missing words and trying to go back over and over trying to understand. I love this so far, Thats what I get for listening to music cranked up. Mom said not to do that, now I know why hearing loss. I don\’t have a 4g phone for the game I wish lol. Any support for close caption?

  • Ben

    ~ Fix the site so it doesn’t freeze or go out of focus.

    ~ Better dialog. (“I never knew a man that could fill my… life like you have.”?)


    ~ Character development, as mentioned in article.

    ~ Lose the cheesey guitar twang. OR add some electronic noises to the soundtrack.

    ~ Do many more unexpected things.

    ~ Kill Cleveland Carr off, without fanfare, and develop the mailman as the main character.

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  • Maggie

    I liked it well enough. It had style, if not substance. The writing is atrocious at times, particularly for the female characters. But that knitting needle cabal was awesome…

    I just wish Tom Hanks hadn’t cast himself as the lead. It’s like watching your favourite uncle trying to be cool and sexy…

  • Maggie

    Shoot, sorry for the multiple posts =/ I thought the first one wasn’t going through…

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