Skip directly to content

The Guild Review

on Fri, 01/17/2014 - 00:00

Cyd Sherman’s life is complicated. “It’s Friday night and still jobless,” she tells her video blog. “Haven’t left the house in a week. My therapist broke up with me.” She then pauses for a moment before adding with a shrug, “Oh, yeah, there’s a gnome warlock in my living room, sleeping on my couch.” With that simple introduction begins the first episode of the web series The Guild. Created and written by actress Felicia Day—who also plays the aforementioned Cyd Sherman, aka Codex—this award-winning series follows a group of World of Warcraft-style online gamers who are suddenly forced to face real-world obstacles when Codex’s life takes a screwball-comedy turn for the worse.

Felicia Day, who admits to having had a two-year addiction to World of Warcraft, originally wrote the script as a television pilot but when she was told that the plot was too “niche,” turned it into a web series instead with the assistance of fellow producers Jane Selle Morgan and Kim Evey. “I decided to write something to show the world that gamers weren’t just guys in their twenties who lived in their mom’s basement,” she told WoW Insider in August 2007. “That cliché has become so annoying. I love doing comedy and I wanted to write something that didn’t make fun of gamers but was funny to gamers and non-gamers alike.”

Felicia Day has populated The Guild with an assortment of well-rounded characters, ranging in age from their late-teens to middle-age, and each carrying unique neurotic behaviors and ticks. Vork/Herman Holden (Jeff Lewis), for instance, is the eldest of the group and brings his own cheese slices to restaurants in order to not pay the price difference between a hamburger and a cheeseburger. “I want to grow my money,” he says. “Not spend it on cheese-gouging.”

Tinkerballa (Amy Okuda) appears to be in her early twenties and resists revealing any personal information about herself to the rest of the group, insisting that her real name is the same as her avatar and using the plot of Ugly Betty to explain how she earns a living. “I like you guys the way you are,” she responds when Codex first raises meeting face-to-face. “Cartoon characters who let me feel a sense of achievement in an imaginary world.” Clara (Robin Thorsen), meanwhile, really does use her given name as her online moniker. A mother of three, she is forgetful, a little bit clueless and prone to neglect her children in favor of gaming.

Zaboo/Sujan Balakrishnan Goldberg (Sandeep Parikh) is a college student who eventually serves as the catalyst for Codex’s life to spiral downward—mistaking his fellow female cohort’s online interaction for that of affection, he arrives at her doorstep with suitcase and laptop in hand, ready to “woo.” Bladezz/Simon (Vincent Caso), the youngest of the group, adds to the mayhem when he’s banned from the game for twenty-four hours, posts an inappropriate video depicting the Guild’s cartoon avatars naked and refuses to return the group’s “bank” that he has been entrusted to guard.

Despite all the chaos around her, Codex eventually learns to cope not just with the events of the first season but her isolated and neurotic life as well. In the initial episode, her therapist says, “You can’t grow if you’re still immersed in an imaginary social environment.” Codex, in one of her video blog entries, even reveals that “I just don’t cope well. With anything. I mean, there’s always a lot of drama in the game, but at the end of the night you can always just log off. You can’t log off from your life.” But as the comedic escapades of Zaboo and Bladezz escalate, Codex finds an inner strength that gives her the needed confidence to rally the online group of gamers to real world action. “We can do this, OK? With just a few of us we can take down a ten-man dungeon. Life can’t be that much harder.”

While season one of The Guild revolves around fellow gamer Zaboo’s stalking crush on Codex, season two is more fully developed and better utilizes its ensemble cast, with a centralized theme of men-versus-women and honesty/dishonesty in relationships. As the seasons progress, meanwhile, Felicia Day shifts the focus more and more onto her fellow Guild members. While Codex is still the star of the series, the evolution of the show from this solitary spotlight to a more multidimensional permutation has served the web series well, giving The Guild more seasons than most other entries in the medium as well as a longer creative life than many successful television shows.

In traditional television, there are usually two signs that an ongoing series is beginning to run out of steam—appearances by a bevy of guest stars and a change in locale. For the fifth season of The Guild, Felicia Day incorporates both of these long-standing “kisses of death” into the storyline. While these ploys are a means of pumping new blood into the proceedings on television, however, in the computer screen world of The Guild the narrative devices not only appear fresh and organic but prove that the show can still be as funny and original as when it first hit the World Wide Web.

At the end of season four, Codex created an Internet commercial for the local Cheesy Beards restaurant featuring Bladezz as a pirate spouting such phrases as “Eat My Pirate Paddy.” Despite the low quality of the final product, the video went viral on the Internet nonetheless, making Bladezz a bona fide online star. In season five, the youngest member of the Knights of Good decides to take his new found fame to the next level by attending a Gaming Convention. Under the illusion that it is an all-expense paid trip, Bladezz invites his fellow Guildies along for the ride. Unfortunately, the experience is far from free and the group is forced to share a room together when the hotel turns out to be booked at capacity.

During the proceedings, Vork concocts a money-making scheme that takes advantage of Bladezz’s online notoriety. The two also learn a lesson in fame when Bladezz attends a party with the likes of Zachary Levi (Chuck), Tom Lenk (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Eliza Dushku (Dollhouse) in attendance, and Vork meets the female star of a 1990s sci-fi television series called Time Rings (played by Buck Rogers in the 25th Century actress Erin Gray). Over the course of the episodes, meanwhile, such iconic celebrities as Nathan Fillion, Neil Gaiman, Richard Hatch, Stan Lee, Brent Spiner and Kevin Sorbo likewise make brief appearances. Season five is also filled with inside jokes about convention culture but the payoffs resonate regardless if one has ever attended such an event or not.

Season six—the final installment of The Guild—ultimately gives the long-term narrative of the web series a sense of closure, and although the finale doesn’t necessarily tie the storyline into a nice little bow, the growth that the Knights of Good have experienced allows them to find happiness outside of their online world nonetheless. “Who knew the world we were escaping into could hurt just as much as reality?” Zaboo rhetorically asks Codex, reflecting the changing dynamics that each of their lives have undergone. And their lives have indeed changed, from Vork finding himself in a relationship with the actress who played his Time Rings crush, to Tinkerballa discovering affection for someone other than herself, to a stronger marriage for Clara and husband George (Brett Sheridan). None of those things seemed possible when The Guild first appeared on the World Wide Web in 2007, but after six seasons, it is now a fitting conclusion for the award-winning web series.

“So it’s Friday night—no longer jobless, yea!” Codex tells her video blog in the end, bringing The Guild full circle. “I was such a mess when I started doing this, but now? Not so much. It’s because I have the Guild. I guess healing them kind of helped heal me too. We’re a team. We’re friends. And yeah, I guess that’s all I needed.”

It is a lesson that all of us can take to heart.

Anthony Letizia (January 17, 2014)

Follow Geek Pittsburgh: Facebook - Twitter - RSS Feed