I dug the 1990s, unironically and without a trace of shame. I dug the music, the flash and especially the bombastic pastels. I dug all of this long after the decade expired. This goes a long way towards explaining why I was always single.
But I generally find the tone of '90s nostalgia to be meaner and more dismissive than that of other definable decades. The 1980s are remembered fondly for their contributions to the canon of synthesized cheese; the 1970s receive warm notices for all the, like, post-Watergate disco emancipation and punk churlishness and whatnot. By contrast, VH1's strenuously glib cultural revisionists wave away the '90s with a wide-eyed "Bell Biv Devoe? What was THEIR deal???"
I can't stand for this and I won't stand for this and I can't stand for this. So I take great delight in pointing y'all towards "Stupid Hype," a short-order web series from the CW Network that gives the 1990s the warm Wedding Singer treatment. Mashing up a Vanilla Ice "E! True Hollywood Story" with 8 Mile, the series is sharp-eyed and gentle in a way that few bits of '90s nostalgia are.
That's why it works. It prioritizes period detail (dope/ill lingo, hyper-melismatic singers, gently parachuted trousers) over barn-broad satire and, in doing so, steers clear of dude-can-you-believe-people-used-to-act-and-dress-and-talk-this-way? scorn. Derision is easy; silliness is hard. You don't need to specifically call attention to an unfortunate haircut to highlight its unfortunateness. Trotting it out within the context of a hooky plot is more than enough.
"Stupid Hype" has plot in abundance, unlike the 6,200 web series that can be encapsulated as "quirky people in workplace setting." Granted, the plot doesn't rank with "Being John Malkovich" in terms of inventiveness, but it's easily entertaining all the same: dim breakdancer Hype breaks his leg just a week before the "Master Breaker B-Boy Battle" and, in a last-ditch attempt to salvage his fly-guy dreams, turns to rap as a form of creative expression/ego satiation. Along the way, he poaches the fly-honey girlfriend of Guru, his Pop-Tart-inhaling mentor.
Just because we know it'll end well for him doesn't mean we can't enjoy the little discoveries along the way - the deliberately overplayed melodrama, especially, but also the oversold bluster (Hype's trademark move is the Terminator Fly-Rocka Headstand). Oh, and the pump-tongued sneakers, multiple pairs of which I never ever owned.
Then there are the original songs, far more involved than what we usually hear in original online video. I'm partial to the Color Me Badd-ass ballad that is "Bros Before Hoes," which applauds the ideal of platonic friendship within the context of a guy-on-guy Frisbee toss on the beach. And the more attention one calls to Guru's slurred-syllable flow, the better ("big booty queen like a Scooby-Doo scene/Woulda got away with it too, if it wasn't for your crew").
Given the elapsed temporal setting, there's little in the way of marketing or branding in the series, which means it probably falls outside the purview of this column (and that I probably stepped on somebody else's toes by reviewing it - hey, Online Video Daily, my bad). But Microsoft's sponsorship (or presentation-ship, or whatever we're calling it nowadays) actually works quite well, if only because the force-fed ads for Windows 8 prompt the first want-that reaction for a Microsoft offering in 15 years.
"Stupid Hype" is thus the rare case where everybody associated with it - the creators, writers, actors, sponsors, CW Network sugar daddies, you name it - comes out looking really, really smart. More affectionate silliness, please.