Good Game debuted a few weeks ago on YouTube Red, created by Jesse Cox and Michele Morrow (who both appear and star in the series, respectively), as they look at the good, the bad, and the salty of all things esports culture in a six-episode series (written by Sarah Carbiener and Erica Rosbe). The video game related sitcom produced by Dan Harmon (Community, Rick and Morty) and starring the Game Grumps (Arin Hanson and Dan Avidan) gained public interest alone when people learned those two comedic forces would be working together on a project. So to say the series had an anticipating fanbase waiting for it to debut is an understatement. But can all of these good elements come together to form a Voltron of comedy, or did we get the YouTube version of Gobots sitcom hell? We've watched the complete first season and have some thoughts to share.
Without getting spoiler heavy, the show revolves around roommates Alex and Ryland who decide to enter an esports tournament for the fictitious game Killcore. In standard sitcom fashion, they manage to round up a ragtag bunch of misfits and form a five-player team aimed at qualifying and winning one of the biggest tournaments for the game with a grand prize of one-million dollars. Along the way they all learn about each other and what makes them both the best and worst team to possibly play the game. All while dealing with their own personal issues ranging from Ryland's past as a hardcore gamer to Sam's obsession with being the best to Ash's gaming career that never was finally becoming a reality.
At its core, Good Game is equal parts heart, smarts, and farts. You get a good message across by exploring what makes all of these characters tick and how their dynamic works with each other, showing that there's more to them than just a gamertag and a surface personality. You get some ingenious exploration of esports and the current gaming culture as a whole—both from a serious perspective of how people make this their livelihood and play for the love of the game, while also giving it a few stiff kicks to the balls about how dumb and ridiculous certain aspects of the industry and the sport are. Both of which are tied together with dark and crude humor that flows out of everyone's mouths like water. There's no line they do not cross in this show, and if there ever was, we're pretty sure they painted over it in the first draft.
Focusing on the culture of gaming itself in the series, there are so many areas that gamers, in general, can relate to. A good example from the first episode is when they introduce Killcore, with a lengthy explanation about how you can buy hundreds of skins as they cycle through animations ranging from pink cutesy designs to holiday creations. Or the idea of owning a "gaming house" where everyone eats, sleeps, shits, and embodies a way of playing 24/7 to the point of it nearly being a religious venture. They even smack streaming culture across the face for having outrageous personalities who are all about themselves and their channel. It's a look at the culture through the eyes of people who have lived it and are unafraid of anyone who may be offended.
Now all of that being said, Good Game does have some flaws. The series is only six episodes long and suffers a bit from what I would call "Britcom pacing". You're given a scenario, quickly introduced to everyone you need to know within the first ten minutes, conflicts are quickly created and resolved, and life seemingly goes on. And you have to wrap everything up in under six episodes rather than letting the story go for at least 10-13. For some shows, this works well, as I can point to another Harmon project in Community as a great example of a pilot episode that pulls it off flawlessly. But here, too much story is trying to be told too quickly, and the pacing at times feels unreasonable. Especially when you consider the fact that most of the episodes are still only 21 minutes long, which makes no sense since it's a YTR show with no forced commercial breaks. Why not make the show an even 30 minutes and let the story breathe with the added time?
That's not to say that Good Game failed in what it was trying to do or is a bad show, it just feels like more could have been done if they had given the story more room to grow. I would have loved to see more of Kamal's life beyond the game, or get a deeper sense of what Ash was going through in what feels like a low point in her life, or even more depth into Lorenzo at some level. But to offset that just a bit as a nice bonus, you'll find many quirky jokes and side-references thrown into the series. There's a "Free Rick" sign seen in the apartment, Terry Crews pops in for a couple episodes as the broadcaster who has no idea what's happening, Channel 101 alumni Kate Freund makes a brief but cool cameo while Cox goes off the deep end figuratively and literally in his small story arch. There are great tidbits to enjoy across all six episodes that will make you go back and rewatch from the start.
Good Game is the best kind of series about video games at a time when we needed it the most. If you follow the esports culture beyond just occasionally catching CS:GO or Street Fighter V tournaments, you'll see how serious it has become on multiple levels that just seem ripe for parody. This show takes the piss out of every aspect of it in a good way, while also reflecting on the people involved with it. The story itself (again, without spoilers) ends on a really cool note where they could come back for a second season; but if this was one-and-done, then the series can stand on its own as a mighty fine show. If you have any love for gaming culture, you should check it out as the last two episodes come out this Wednesday and next.