‘Gemini’ pioneers, comic strip-style
Having premiered Monday on both NBC.com and SciFi.com -- it’s all the same company up top -- “Gemini Division” is the first original Web series from NBC Universal Digital Studios, an entity whose proudly stated mission is “to develop and produce brand-centric, quality digital content experiences.” That is to say, they make commercials disguised as drama, offering sponsors “full service solutions with access to top writers, producers and talent, high quality production expertise, consumer insights, measurements and analytics, and scale to reach their target audiences.” Let the play begin!
Rosario Dawson stars as Anna, an American cop on vacation in Paris with her boyfriend. I will tell you, because I read it in a news release -- only two short episodes were available in advance for review -- that she will find herself in the middle of a war between artificial people and the agency that hunts them down. Can you say “replicant”?
Apart from the question of whether “Gemini Division” is advertising or entertainment -- it’s advertainment!, a word I did not even invent -- there is the question of whether it is television. When the fast computers and the smart TVs finally become one, such distinctions may cease to matter, but that day is not now: The new medium is not yet well understood, and the principal thing that currently distinguishes Web drama from its broadcast counterpart is that it is not as good.
Although it is supposed to represent the future, the form is still defined by its limitations -- in budget, bandwidth and the perceived attention span of the online audience. What it most resembles, for the moment, is a comic strip -- a story cut into 50 bite-sized pieces. (The third went online Monday; new episodes will air Monday through Thursday hereafter.)
Apart from the very natural Dawson, the main charm of “Gemini Division” (so far) is its very cheesiness, exemplified by the amusingly obvious digital insertion of its characters into Parisian locations. It begins as a Web-typical, talking-head drama, as Anna speaks into her fancy mobile picture phone, addressing some unidentified someone she loves and trusts.
We learn that Paris is great, that her boyfriend has proposed, that someone is following them, and that there is a strange residue in the bathtub. These scenes resemble nothing so much as the filmed bits in video games, where, as you’ve reached some new level in the action, an actor appears to guide you on. Except here, you only watch.