One week ago, I wrote a post expressing my aversion to the concept of webisodes, how I found it too hard to concentrate on them and had yet to see anything that really caught my attention. Not long after, Rob Parrish left a thoughtful comment and concluded it by attaching a link to his own series, Next to Heaven. No offense to Mr. Parrish, but I didn’t even bother clinking on the link for fear of what resided on the other side. But a day or two later, Hammer to Nail’s other driving force alongside Ted Hope, Mr. Corbin Day, called me to say that I should watch Episode 52 because he thought it was pretty wild stuff. At that point, I did. He was right! Since then, I have managed to watch all fifty-two episodes from the show’s first season, and while the content varies from exceptional to interesting, Parrish hits a few genuine grand slams that have made me an official Next to Heaven fan.
The most important factor here is that Parrish seems to understand the format he’s working with and the audience he’s making these episodes for. This isn’t cinema or television. It’s its own thing. And if done creatively and wisely, it can provide its own healthy measures of entertainment and enlightenment. Each episode hovers around the two-minute mark (with the exception of the special “The Tapes of My Dad,” which combines a few previous episodes into one heartier package). Also, another striking distinction that helps Parrish’s case greatly, I think, is that he isn’t trying to establish an ongoing narrative. Each episode is a self-contained unit, and while the combination of them adds up to a greater whole, they need not be watched in sequence to be appreciated or understood. I guess my problem with the concept of webisodes is that I assumed people were going to only use the format to make low-rent, paper thin, one-dimensional soap operas and/or sitcoms. And while many do, Parrish’s vision couldn’t be more different and exciting.
As for the show itself, Next to Heaven reminds me of something like Jack Handey’s Deep Thoughts. Over edited stock footage, Parrish crafts hilarious memories of individuals who are speaking from the grave, or from somewhere close to it. While he uses a variety of distorted voices for his narration, my favorite is the slowed-down male figure that sounds like he’s been huffing Nitrous since the 1970s. On the site, Parrish has a page where he selects twelve of the best episodes, but my personal favorites are: 2, 12, 26, 35, 49, and 52. These particular episodes aren’t just the ones that made me laugh the loudest. They actually work on a deeper level, using wit and humor to mock some of our world’s sillier constructs (the work force, country pride, funerals, etc.). Episode 52 was the first episode that I watched, and it might very well be my favorite, especially when the narrator’s friends call to him from Heaven telling him to leave his loser Earth friends behind and join them for the real party up there. Episode 26, about a man who wakes up as a lion and makes his way to work, is another standout, as well as Episode 35, which contains the following patriotic line: “And you know what winners never do? Winners never lose. Never.” That episode brilliantly captures the buffoonish, defiant attitude of the Bush administration as well as any work of criticism I’ve seen or read. But one doesn’t have to read into these episodes to appreciate them. As quick bursts of entertainment, they work just as well.
I’d like to send a personal thank you to Rob Parrish for helping me to see the light, to show me just a glimpse of what webisodes can do. If any of you out there know of any others that have their heads and hearts and funny bones in the right place, leave a link in the comments section. And if you haven’t watched Next to Heaven yet, do yourself a favor and check it out right now.
— Michael Tully