The path of the hero is never easy…hopefully the princess is.
The Legend of Neil is an original web series co-written and directed by Sandeep Parikh, best known to geeks as Zaboo from The Guild. After filming the first few episodes with him and his friends just for fun, the show took off, and received a grant from Comedy Central to complete the series, all three seasons of which are now on this two-disc DVD set.
Neil (co-writer Tony Janning) is an ordinary guy who gets drunk one night while playing the Nintendo classic The Legend of Zelda, and finds himself sucked into the TV and transported into the game itself. Everyone he meets assumes he’s the game’s hero, Link, and he’s been tasked to go fight his way through all of its dungeon levels to rescue the princess, Zelda (Angie Hill). All Neil really wants, though, is to get drunk, get laid, and get out of there.
The purpose of The Legend of Neil, the basic “joke” that the series is based upon, is pointing out the absurdities of the old eight-bit classic games. Why is there a map of the level just lying on the floor of the level? If all monsters are trying to kill you, why are they leaving behind health and weapons for you to use? And so on. Neil finds himself within the Zelda game, and takes a “real world” approach to sorting out the ludicrousness of the game, which provides for a lot of the comedy. The fact that Neil is—and this is the creators’ word, not mine—a douche, just adds to the humor.
The comedy is played big and broad, and is very R-rated. The dick jokes, drunk jokes, barf jokes, sex jokes, and f-bombs flow like wine. I normally prefer witty humor over crude humor, but The Legend of Neil is one case where it works. In a lot of lowbrow comedies, the raunchiness is a mask for laziness, where creators are pandering to the lowest common denominator instead of stretching themselves to craft something genuine (Seth MacFarlane, I’m looking in your direction). The Legend of Neil, is different, however. When Neil cuts loose with a stream of obscenities, it’s not because the writers are lazy and can’t think of anything else to do. Instead, it’s to illustrate the ridiculousness of the candy-colored video game world versus the harsh and cruel world we all live in.
While the first season pretty much one big goof, the show smartens up some at the start of the second, by giving Neil a backstory, and therefore giving him some real motivation on his quest. This character development means we care about Neil, even he’s being a douche, and we want him to succeed. As the show heads into its third and final season, Neil turns a corner in his development and matures somewhat, and it feels truly earned. Tony Janning does a great job as Neil, slowly and subtly transitioning from total douche to half-douche/half-hero, while providing some of the biggest laughs merely through his reactions to all the craziness around him.
The show is helped along by a solid ensemble of comic actors. Nerd goddess Felicia Day (The Guild) plays an especially foul-mouthed fairy, Mike Rose adds a lot of insane randomness as an old man aiding Neil on his quest, and Scott Chernoff and Eric Acosta have great chemistry as the outrageous villains Gannon and Wisrobe. The actors improvised a lot of scenes, with excellent comedic timing as they play off of each other, sometimes with differing styles of performing.
Another reason to praise The Legend of Neil is its ambitiousness. The show might have received funding from Comedy Central, but it wasn’t a lot of funding, relatively speaking, so it maintains that low-budget guerilla-funding charm throughout. Cave walls are made from crinkled paper, because they couldn’t afford paper mache. Dragons and monsters are crafted through simplistic masks and puppetry. Limited CGI looks fake, but adds to the humor by doing so. As the show progresses into its second and third seasons, you see the creators really stretching themselves to break new ground and try things they’ve never tried before. You get the occasional experimental episode that’s so elaborate that you wonder how on Earth they pulled it off on their shoestring budget. This is doubly true for the final episode, in they really pulled out all the stops. It’s the last episode, so you can tell they threw everything they wanted to do into it, and it’s deliriously fun and exciting. Note that the finale is longer than all of season one combined.
The made-for-Youtube audio and visuals won’t win the disc any AV awards, but it’s nonetheless clean and clear. Some darker scenes in the early episode look a little muddy, but not so much that it’ll distract from the viewing experience. The highlight of the bonus features is two commentary tracks running through all three seasons, one from the creators and one from the creators and the cast. These are a lot of fun, including both behind-the-scenes info and humorous riffing on the episodes. There are two featurettes showcasing the low budget guerilla filmmaking, and lengthy gag reels for each season. For more comedy, there are some minisodes with the supporting characters and a music video starring the cast. You can also check out the original episode scripts on DVD-Rom.
Do you have to be a hardcore video game fan to enjoy The Legend of Neil? I’m going to say no. I only have a passing familiarity with the Zelda games, so maybe I missed some of the more obscure references, but the jokes are still broad and accessible enough that casual gamers can go ahead and jump right in.
The drunken profanities of The Legend of Neil means it’s not for everyone, but I had a great time with it. A generous helping of quality bonus features add a lot of value to what you can otherwise watch online, so check it out.