If you were nerdy enough in 2003, you may remember the original episodes of the web series “Red vs. Blue” (view Amazon trailer here). If you’re not familiar with it from its later incarnations, Red vs Blue was a web-only video series created by Rooster Teeth Productions (clips further below). The typical description of the series on sites like Wikipedia will talk about how it was “produced using the machinima technique of synchronizing video footage from a game to pre-recorded dialogue”, but this misses probably the most important point about the series, which is that it was a brilliantly-crafted existentialist absurd comedy created mostly by recording dialog over the telephone (yup, a land line) and giving voice to faceless, stiff video game figures from the game Halo. Although it relies on the video game characters to deliver the stories, the stories themselves aren’t driven by the game concept at all; the comedy is in fact often derived from an always-subtly-present narrative self-awareness about the surreal setting of the episodes.
Video in the Year 2 BYT (Before YouTube)
Especially back in 2003 AD (the year 2BYT), getting your hands on the latest episode of Red vs Blue could be laborious (especially if you were a budding young pirate who hated paying for anything) because the series was released in a controlled fashion to limit the creators’ bandwidth bill. With hindsight, a lot of us should probably feel guilty, because by September 2005, the official Rooster Teeth website was serving 400 terabytes of data monthly. To help you grasp what that really means, the entire collection of the US Library of Congress would be roughly 10 terabytes; the human brain is estimated to require about 100. You have to remember, YouTube didn’t even exist yet, and when it finally launched in 2005 it looked like this:
No, you’d have to download the darn things, and even though the clip was probably only 360×240 and about 5MB, that meant a fifteen minute wait on dialup for a 2 minute video. Then, when you finally got it downloaded, you’d have to watch it on one of these godawful platforms:
But it always felt like it was worth it. As we said at the top, the genius of the show is in its existentialist humor, and somehow the settings, voiceovers, tiny viewscreen, and surreal humor all “felt right”. It was like you were getting some hint of the future of entertainment before everyone else, and well, you probably were. But luckily for you if you’ve never seen the series before, you don’t have to endure this misery, because it’s all available on YouTube now, and in better quality than the originals. You can even buy it on Amazon!
Important Note About YouTube Viewing
If you plan to watch episodes on YouTube, look for the older uploads starting in 2008. Although the later uploads of the same episodes are in HD, they also have a really terrible “character intro” with awful music that’s over a minute long, almost as long as the clips themselves! Besides, you wouldn’t be enjoying them in their original gritty form, which is half the appeal. It’s like listening to an old slightly scratched Coltrane LP.
Here are the first two episodes, in all their low-res glory:
Episode 1: Why Are We Here?
The first episode perfectly sets the tone for the episodes to come, with its Existentialist 101 titularity.
Episode 2: Red Gets A Delivery
Borrowing a little from the “Hollywood Movie Drill Sergeant” cliché, the second episode brings a clever cornball vibe.