We've been excited about Bryan Singer's new webseries H+ for a while now, based on the cool premise: Tons of people get a chip called H+ implanted, which connects their brains to the Internet. And then a virus strikes, and a third of the world population dies instantly. And Angel's Alexis Denisof stars!
H+ is debuting on Youtube on August 8, but Comic Con attendees will get a sneak peek on Friday — and there's already been a screening in L.A. Io9 reader (and independent filmmaker) John V. Knowles was there, and he sent us this report. Spoilers ahead...
If you're a geek about near-future scenarios with strong flavors of transhumanism, embedded computers and a splash of cyberpunk flavoring then you'll be all over this thing (I sure was.) We got to watch 24 episodes back-to-back, which is half the season. They organized them into two "playlists" for us, about an hour and a half of content.
The concept ... is that a biotech company invents a tiny chip called the H+ which can be injected with a syringe that, once inside you, will monitor your health and connect you to the net. It becomes a version of augmented reality, with a hub of windows and apps in your field of vision that you interact with. They show it in action during a slick sales video at the start of the first episode (which could have almost passed for a legit video at TED or something, it's really well done) and we occasionally catch glimpses of it in the character's POV.
But mostly you see people talking out loud in conference calls or using a series of hand gestures (like a mid-air multitouch that Apple might have come up with) so you know they're interfacing with it without having to show the little floating icons all the time, which is very effective for the story. An interesting old-school touch is the use of pen and paper in some scenes, which is used to convey private notes to the people watching your feed without anyone else in the room knowing about it. It's clear the creators really thought through the technology and how it would be implemented in the real world, and how once the novelty wore off it would be used for everyday, mundane things like checking in for your flight or secretly watching a football game while your wife is talking to you.
But that's all setup. The meat of the story is THE EVENT: a virus that sweeps through the global H+ network and kills almost every connected person with the device. People simply drop dead in their tracks, like marionettes with their strings cut. If this was a big budget epidemic movie there would probably be more scenes of epic devastation, but the series doesn't go there. Our experience of The Event is grounded in what the characters witness themselves, and to some degree we're struggling to put the pieces together just as they are (there is one segment that shows an entire airport full of dead people which was eerily effective).
This is a big, sprawling show with lots of plot threads and characters to follow.
We first meet a small group of survivors at SFO who witness the moment of the event, but are saved due to the wifi being down on their parking level. We also meet a middle-aged couple who are hiring an Indian girl to be their surrogate, which has put a strain on their marriage. Everyone is six-degrees from each other, and this tangled web of hackers, biotech scientists and terror cells smells like a stew that William Gibson cooked up.
Each episode is marked by its relation to The Event — some are just hours or minutes before or after it, and some take place years before (setting up the major players and shadowy conspiracies) or even years after, when the world is trying to hold itself together. Episodes tend to follow a particular plot thread and only a few characters at a time, but you get the sense that the pieces will start to overlap eventually as more characters cross over to other threads and bump into each other. Some eps end in cliffhangers, others jump further ahead in time and leave you to fill in the blanks. It's a bit like LOST, if it was ALL about the flashbacks and flashforwards.
And here's the thing: there is NO set order. After the first episode, you can watch these in any random order and it will (hopefully) still hold together as a show. The producers were very keen on the idea of Youtube playlists and hope that fans will roll their own combinations of episodes as they try to figure out which pieces of the puzzle fit together best.
This may solve my biggest issue with the show, which is that it's somewhat frustrating to watch several episodes back to back in an order you don't choose. You get invested in one storyline and then it's dropped for a completely different set of characters set years apart. It might be refreshing to be able to put together all the episodes that follow that plot thread and watch them back-to-back, then move on to the next batch. It's an interesting concept that may revolutionize serial storytelling on the web, if audiences are game to dig in and try it. I can see older auds who prefer more traditional story formats getting frustrated with this kind of nonlinear approach, but hopefully it will find an audience of viewers who can appreciate the interactive nature and really embrace it.
Anywhoo, that's my take on it. I'll be looking out for it in August when it premieres and hopefully they'll mix up the order so some of the back 24 eps I didn't see will come out early. They plan on releasing six eps the first two weeks, then two eps every Wednesday after that. They're writing Season two, but obviously that will depend on how well this season does. They left me hungry for more and there's always that nagging hope that they'll get far enough to bring some closure to all the mysteries they've put forth.