The dumbest reason to be annoyed by circa-2012 online video is an excess of product placement. At this point in our commercial and cultural evolution, railing against product placement is like railing against shoes, or against the arrival of night. Product placement is a fact of life. No matter how much it may irritate scold-ier viewers, no fiscally conscientious production will refuse those dollars. This is the way it is, and the way it will be.
Besides, it looks dopey when a character is shown caressing an iPad recast as a "uTablet" for the sake of copyright/patent sanctity. We live in a world of brands. No-label products, I think, deliver more of an authenticity jolt than all but the hammiest instances of product placement (read: the self-aware ones, like when a fictional being holds up a Snapple bottle, winks four times and punctuates a long swig with a euphonious "aaaaaaahhh!").
At the same time, I can't help but imagine an alternate universe, one in which brand-larded series are stripped of anything bearing a too-visible tag, logo or imprint. So as an experiment, I decided to see how an episode of the web series "Dating Rules From My Future Self," an Alloy Entertainment production whose title tells you everything you need to know about its defining premise, would play minus its Ford and Schick worship. The episode I examined was "Kool Aid," the penultimate one from the show's second season (which was less-famous-actress-ily recast from season one).
A brief primer: season two of "Dating Rules" chronicles the adventures of Chloe, a young lass who, if you can get past her lack of direction, self-esteem and intellectual curiosity, is a real catch. We know this because she has blonde hair and accessorizes with great, furious abandon. In the second season premiere, sweet Chloe starts texting and video-klatching with a still-single version of her future self. Based on the unbranded-Skype sessions, the difference between Chloe 2012 and Chloe 2022 is a hardened heart, emotionally cauterized by too many mornings in which she awoke staring at an unfamiliar ceiling. Ha ha, no - the difference is a haircut and glasses. In the future, the show posits, we will all be tastefully shorn and myopic. This does not appear to be intended as metaphor.
Anyway, Chloe used to be into this dude Marc, an unfairly handsome surfer with aggressively landscaped tufts of facial hair and eyes as translucent as freshly Windex'd glass. But, see, Marc totally broke her heart ("I'm sorry for the way that I hurt you, for sleeping with your sorority sister...s") and Chloe - along with her brassy best bud, scheme-y brother and stick-up-her-ahem sister-in-law - can't get around to trusting him again. Or can they? Will Chloe find love lasting and true, either with Marc or one of her "five-night stand" dalliances? Will she wallpaper her so-cute Venice bungalow with Schick Quattro For Women packaging? Good questions, all!
That's the show. It is written, acted and blocked as competently as the average one-season-and-out CW sitcom. At no point do we see continuity glitches or boom mics dangling near the top of the frame. It's even the teensiest bit edgy, with Chloe endorsing Hawaii's "amazing weed" (holy PG-13, right? I sure hope that pre-teens watching "Dating Rules" on unsecured screens don't marijuana themselves to distraction).
But without the product stuff, there's no reason for the show to exist. Getting back to that brand-removal exercise, first we'd have to eliminate the pre-scene bumpers, many of which show our heroine's shiny red Ford Escape parked in front of her house. Then we'd have to exorcise the numerous scenes set in the car, during which Chloe does a trade-show-worthy demonstration of the in-dash computer's many features. Finally, we'd have to ditch about 62.5 percent of the action that takes place in Chloe's house, because the maid somehow forgot to tidy all the Schick wrappers.
In "Kool Aid," that would mean losing two of the aforementioned bumpers, the opening scene (in which Chloe shaves her legs which conversing with future Chloe, who takes that as a sign that the present-tense version of herself hasn't given up on love) and most of the Chloe/Marc scene in the car, during which the in-dash computer figures so prominently that it could apply for actor's guild membership. What would remain? A quickie scene in which Marc starts to win over Chloe and her crew with the sheer brute force of his awesome-dudeishness. That's about it.
Again, I have no issue with product placement, which alerts me to the existence of products like cell phones and flooring. My problem is when content that uses it as a crutch doesn't bother to add some bare basic minimum of plot and character development. As such, "Dating Rules" is a wisp of a fleck of a series, less an entertainment than a cautionary tale. If it lives to see a third season, the producers might want to pay a bit more attention to, you know, the show itself.