Roger, the Chicken is an exceptionally dry and deliciously moreish comedy. It follows the life of Roger, the titular “chicken”, who isn’t actually a chicken at all, but rather some sort of “post post-ironic” Hipster who just happens to always wear a chicken suit wherever he goes.
The series is actually based on a short film made in 2011, which has since been chopped up into sketches, and served as a sort of prequel chapter to the teams latest offering, which is thankfully, tailored distinctly for the web.
It’s Roger’s return that has caught my attention – the new series, created by Matthew-Lee Erlbach and Mallory Portnoy is perhaps one of the most consistently quotable shows on the web.
If this all sounds a bit complicated, it really isn’t. Roger and his girlfriend Monica are two eccentric hipsters in love, who live together off Monica’s “Jar-Art” (Jart) money, and inheritance (okay, so mainly her inheritance). Luckily the two have found happiness in eachother, because both Roger and Monica are buried so deep in their own extremely narrow counter-cultures, that they can barely function as adults.
“Oh, me too. I have a Kickstarter account”
Successfully Kickstarted in March this year, Roger, the Chicken is a slow starter; episode 1 does a brilliant job layering its backstory into the awkward social situation at its centre (Monica’s sister and her boyfriend are visiting for dinner) but it does so at the cost of its pacing. Clocking in at 7 minutes long and set in just one location, Roger’s extremely dry and witty humour hurts it more than it helps it here.
The quality of writing is consistently high throughout the series, and episode one is not an exception, but the energy, focus and sense of purpose that later episodes excel at and benefit from is oddly missing in the first. In a lot of ways, the series’ structure is reminiscent of DINKS, which also started at a crawl.
Like DINKS, Roger, the Chicken makes sure to establish its zany characters through the eyes of somebody sane. It’s laborious, but it’s an essential and worthwhile move, as it ensures the audience will clearly understand the principles and stakes of each subsequent episode. It’s not the world that’s insane, just our leads.
As much as this may hamstring our first encounter with the series, failure to establish its world in such a way would have only lead to great confusion, such as in the regrettably flawed Dick Doblin: Privateye.
Thankfully, Roger is well worth sticking with, because once it finds its rhythm, it’s ridiculously fun to ride along with.
Episode 2, which is five minutes long and absolutely packed with great lines, witty retorts and subtle characterisation feels like the series’ true start. In it, Roger and Monica take to the streets to rummage through their neighbours garbage in the hopes of finding cool vintage furniture to “un-cycle”. Outside in the real world, the absurdity of Roger’s chicken suit really strikes you, and his relationship with the artsy but headstrong Monica begins to make sense.
“You curb it, you lurb it”
It’s here in episode 2 that the series starts to playfully toy with some high-brow themes such as normalcy and perception, and as a result, really sinks it teeth into the paradoxically self-conscious-yet-outwardly-apathetic world of hipsterdom. When the series lovingly riffs on these well-worn archetypes, it finds itself a wealth of quotable lines and “gif-able” moments. In fact, it’s almost as if Roger, the Chicken has been cleverly written to both appeal to and be shared by the deeply dedicated, tumblr obsessed crowd that it repeatedly pokes fun at.
It’s through a returning character, Terry (Jeff Ashworth) that many of these moments are made possible. When he slowly and awkwardly wheels his tiny, child-sized bike across Roger and Monica’s path for the first time and speaks in his lethargic and disinterested drawl, everything suddenly clicks.
Terry, Roger and Monica form a solid comedy trio together, and when they’re all performing off each-other, the show is at its best.
Episode 2 ends on a high note, wrapping its narrative up with a well-timed punchline delivered through a stylistically distinct vignette, and then topping it with a brief “post-credits” scene which only serves to reinforce the episodes’ core themes (“Why is it acceptable for some people do dumpster-dive, and not others?”)
Episodes 3 and 4 both maintain the extremely high quality of writing laid out by 1 & 2, and do a good job fleshing out their respective main characters. Roger’s attempts at opening a business in Terry’s apartment are predictably disastrous, and paint a picture of Roger as a likeable, misguided idealist who’s more concerned with losing his credibility than losing his money.
“Art is not dead. In fact, it’s in a comatose state, staring back at its own reflection in a room full of broken mirrors”
Episode 3 scales the antics back considerably, and takes place after one of Monica’s “Jar-art” (“The Jar-ty Party”) exhibits. The focus here is purely on the writing, but unburdened with exposition, the singular setting works a treat. Monica’s insecurities and doubts provide the meat of the conflict here, and Roger’s earnest attempts at consoling her after an ambiguous review are equal parts funny and touching.
On top of its commendable writing prowess, Roger, the Chicken is beautifully shot and presented. Care has clearly been lavished on every aspect of the series, from costume design (Bree Perry) to cinematography (Corey Gegner) and audio (Mike Garatty/ Vince Verderame) – in short, the series genuinely feels like a labour of love, and praise is deserved by all involved.
You can watch episode one of Roger, the Chicken below. If you too are amazed that a web series out of New York happened to be about something other than crippling, depressing loneliness and bad speed dating with cynical partners, then be sure to give Roger a look.
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