by Keith R. Higgons
Web series are a dime a dozen. Every flunky with an idea, an iPhone or digital camera now feels they’re qualified to shoot a web series. “Technical prowess and the syntax of English be damned,” they scream as they upload their dreck to the web. And with powerful distribution tools like YouTube and Vimeo making it as simple as an upload and click to reach an audience…God, or whatever, help us.
But before I spiral down that rabbit hole and I receive a tersely worded email from my editor accompanying a heavily redacted version of this article, I want tell you about one of the better web series, Tyler G. Hall’s Dick Doblin: Privateye.
Hall, a North Carolina native living in East Williamsburg (that’s Bushwick to us old timers), created Dick Doblin: Privateye with his roommate, and lead, Lucas Whitehead. The character came about as Whitehead donned the private dick’s signature brown old-timey fedora. Said Hall, “Lucas immediately looked like an old fashioned PI with his brier patch mustache and classic good looks.” The two started riffing at home and soon took Dick Doblin: Privateye to the people capitalizing on their Upright Citizens Brigade improvisational skills on the streets of East BushWilliburg.
Tyler and Whitehead pitched the idea to producer, Ross Brunetti (who also handled sound, editing and camera). Brunetti helped them hone the idea and thus Dick Doblin: Privateye, the web series, was born!
After catching wind of the Dick Doblin: Privateye’s successful screening at Nite Hawk Cinema of all five webisodes (yes, it’s a word now) cut together for a 25 minute Directors Cut, I decided to sit down and watch both that and each of the five “pro tip” episodes separately.
Filmed primarily in Park Slope and Williamsburg, Dick Doblin: Privateye is a sort of local road web series that centers around transplanted Pittsburgh PI Dick Doblin and his “pro tip videos on how to become a professional private eye.” The only problem is that his camera is stolen during the first episode, while he is shooting his first “pro-tip.”
The always thinking Dick Doblin: Privateye enlists the help of his old Pittsburgh buddy, Randy, played by writer/director Hall, to put his “pro tip series” into action, and production. Randy films each of the five tips as Dick Doblin: Privateye utilizes them to catch this “punk kid with a hooligan haircut and a drop out attitude” who stole his camera.
Taken as a long form 25-minute show, the premise and jokes in Dick Doblin: Privateye wear thin and fall flat pretty quickly. It seems as though this long form version was an after thought and the webisodes were cut together to meet a standard sitcom format. For me, it didn’t work. Fortunately, the editing works well enough that it’s coherent and it flows evenly enough so one doesn’t loose interest.
As a web series, it truly shines. It’s in these shorter versions where the jokes seem stronger and less one-dimensional. The writing and cinema vérité filmmaking have more impact when the webisodes are screened individually. I won’t spoil some of the funnier parts, but the saxophone shout out in episode 5 was a particular favorite. It genuinely left me wanting more. As a web series, it’s very effective and seriously funny.
What holds both the long and short form versions of Dick Doblin: Privateye is the sincerity of Lucas Whitehead. His Dick Doblin: Privateye comes across as an unfrozen film noir private dick crossed with the looks of “Bass-o-Matic” era SNL Dan Akroyd and the lanky cluelessness of Whitest Kid U’ Know Trevor Moore. The bonus music video on the Dick Doblin: Privateye website of Whitehead’s Trick Trodlin character singing an absolutely aborted and ridiculous version of “Old Man River” solidifies his connection to Moore and Akroyd.
When I reached out to Hall for a couple of follow up questions, it would seem that Dick Doblin: Privateye was still around. Commandeering Hall’s computer he fired off what can only be described as “whiskey soaked tips from a private dick.” Among them:
- You can never be sure if food in Brooklyn will be “vegan” so bring some bacon bits just in case.
- Look both ways before crossing Dick Doblin.
- Did you know it’s illegal to smell bad on the subway? Oh it isn’t? Well it should be.
- A good Privateye never reveals his clients…unless that client is Steve Buscemi and he still owes you money.
- Being a Privateye isn’t all meeting women next to steamy sewer grates on dark nights. But sometimes it is and sometimes that woman is named Lucille Marlow and she’ll break your heart because she doesn’t know what’s good for—I’m sorry, what was your question?
Luckily, Hall was eventually able to subdue the intoxicated Doblin and reply to my questions. He told me that Dick Doblin: Privateye, while taking a needed rest, will be back for a more polished second series. He also told me that he and Whitehead have kicked around a spin-off show for Trick Trodlin and that both he and Whitehead will remain active with their improv team, Power Nap.
Dick Doblin: Privateye reminds me of what is good about both the web and web series. The web is the home where developing artists can explore their creativity and receive quantifiable feedback by views, comments and likes. Much like CBGB’s was home to a burgeoning punk rock movement and bands could receive quantifiable feedback by filling the place. And web series like Dick Doblin: Privateye represent the artists of that scene, like the Ramones, Talking Heads and Blondie.
Over the years, hundreds of thousands of bands played at CBGB’s and yet we still only talk about 20 artists, give or take, from those golden years of CBGB. Similarly, here we are in the golden era of web video where millions of videos and web series are uploaded and watched every day on the web. That’s a lot of noise to overcome for the Dick Doblin: Privateye crew of Tyler G. Hall, Lucas Whitehead and Ross Brunetti.
One thing is for certain, I’d like to see some more Dick Doblin: Privateye. So should you.