Whether you use the term cliques, the “in-crowd,” the popular groups, the “A-listers,” “mean girls,” or Queen Bees-- every American woman who survived high school is instantly familiar with that certain breed of young teenage female whose effortless beauty, tendency towards gossip and back-stabbing, ability to turn men into slobbering puppies, and willingness to do whatever it takes to be the leader of her pack made her the girl to fear, envy, loathe, or worship in every generation.
While they made our lives a living hell-- unless you were one of them (and if so, your four year reign is over, so move on)-- and generally gave our sex a bad name by living up to every stereotype in the book whether it was toying with the emotions of weaker girls to build themselves up, playing tricks on others, or stealing any boy that had the audacity to fall for another girl in the clique, the idea of the Queen Bee or high school version of Lady Macbeth is the stuff of operatic soap operas.
And it's no wonder that it keeps cropping up in popular culture whether it's the bad girls who never got over their high school years in daytime soaps or the young, wealthy Upper East Siders in the hit CW series Gossip Girl-- there's nothing like a bad girl we hate to love and love to hate that manages to capture our attention, especially because now with a screen separating us along with the lines of fiction and reality securely in place, they can no longer injure. No, instead, they entertain as we secretly root for both their demise and their good fortune, torn emotionally in our response to characters like the talented Leighton Meester's interpretation of Blair Waldorf on Gossip Girl or Natalie Zea's wonderfully witty Karen Darling on Dirty Sexy Money.
For Michael Eisner's first big project following his departure from Disney where he served as the CEO and with the major release by his brand new media production company Vuguru, he tapped right into this demographic and appetite for the Shakespearean tales of the bitchy Queen Bees with his groundbreaking and creatively daring venture into online filmmaking, aptly named Prom Queen. Queen also has the prestigious distinction of becoming the first “studio” backed serialized drama crafted specifically for the internet. Working in tandem with Big Fantastic on the production side (who'd been behind the series SamHas7Friends), this Emmy nominated smash hit which premiered directly on MySpace on April 1, 2007 soon captured the attention of tens of millions of viewers who tuned into see the latest “video diary” styled entry in the twelve-week run.
Also airing on ElleGirl.com, the show's official website, and YouTube through Veoh Networks and brilliantly widening its appeal with official character pages on MySpace and additional footage, pics, and clips to tap right into its net savvy demographic, the 80 episode series which was released in succinct yet addictive 90 second installments was in such demand that a fifteen episode mini-arc spin-off called Summer Heat followed the first season and recent confirmation online has revealed that not only is the first season being remade in Tokyo for Japanese audiences but also Michael Eisener has confirmed that there will be a third installment of Prom for its devotees.
Now conveniently releasing both Prom Queen Season One along with Summer Heat in an equally high quality transfer to a 2-Disc DVD from Shout! Factory, viewers including those clueless film fans nearing their thirties who feel a bit too old for the MySpace platform are able to watch them all unfold in quick, irresistible succession without having to hunt down each clip or wait for slow net connections or sit in uncomfortable computer chairs. Although it doesn't shake its made-for-the-web feel on DVD, like Gossip Girl which also thrives on the latest technology, it feels entirely timely and urgent.
Additionally, I think the DVD release benefits the deceptively ADD styled show as it gets increasingly complicated as it evolves. Beginning with a series of eerie episodes that alternate from fun YouTube styled clips to ones that stay with you like that tape from The Ring, we're introduced to a group of senior students at the fictitious Edwards Adams High School. In the final few months nearing both graduation and prom, instead of the caps and tassels, the thing that seems to be on everyone's minds is the gowns and the crown as five young women will find themselves nominated for prom queen.
While certain girls like the overtly flirtatious Nikki, the dysfunctional Lauren who struggles to live up to her mother's image as a former Prom Queen, and the beautiful yet secretive Courtney seem like sure bets, other surprise contenders begin to creep up including the British foreign exchange student named Danica who does a bulk of the filming to capture her American experience, and the bright daughter of an Iraqi soldier named Sadie who masquerades as an “emo-outsider” but is much more Molly Ringwald than Ally Sheedy deep down.
Further complicating matters and giving the show a subtle teen horror movie vibe that resonates throughout occurs fairly early on in the first episode as Danica wakes up in the yard and upon finding the camera rolling says “oh no,” in a way that immediately haunts the viewer likewise when Ben, Sadie's brother who has always been known as “the best friend” or nice guy instead of the boyfriend, receives a threatening text message telling him that he will kill the prom queen. A genuine good guy-- it seems to be the last thing we'd expect of Ben yet more anonymous text messages, videos, instant messages and e-mails follow as secrets are spilled among the group of more than a dozen characters (some of whom are initially hard to keep straight as-- much like this reviewer-- the casting director obviously had a thing for dark haired men) and other subplots fascinate and infuriate.
Much more titillating and shocking than Gossip Girl-- there's plenty in Prom Queen to horrify parents everywhere as one girl abuses pills, another embraces self-mutilation, one girl seems to be blackmailed into appearing on an adult site, one male character lives in a shoddy motel hiding out from a past straight out of Film Noir involving a gun and briefcase filled with cash, and another guy has a mysterious pink phone that connects him with an entirely unexpected plot that moves it into the world of effective melodrama.
While the Scream 2 styled finale does feel a bit rushed and Summer Heat fails to engross on the same level as Prom Queen since it seems to stick the remaining characters into a none-too-effective cliched Hollywood plot, it's best when it stays true to its MySpace, YouTube, blogging, current technology roots that tackle issues facing teens today and worst when it tries to compete with the creatively challenged Hollywood films being forced down the throats of teenagers at the multiplex.
And while I'm still not certain I completely understand or fully buy its Keyser Soze-ish "a-ha" moment as the ultimate villain is finally unmasked at the end of Prom Queen to a slightly unsatisfactory result (perhaps due to its summation having to occur in the 90 second framework), it's still compelling, easy to get lost in, and incredibly watchable. Yet, most importantly, it also promises truly exciting online ventures in the future. With the current economy and competitive entertainment market as corporations try to test the waters and distract their target demographic from all sides with video games like Guitar Hero, feature films, television shows, MP3s, books and more-- it's great to see such an above average, low-budget, intellectually stimulating work of amazing bravery from Eisner, the show's ingenious and hard-working writers and directors along with its instantly relatable young cast members whose unknown status manages to get us to buy right into their plights as though they were the struggles of real teens airing their complaints, triumphs, and failures on the world wide web.
With a second disc of bonus features and more in-depth video blogs from the characters, Shout's excellent DVD release is certain to garner more fans who, like yours truly, weren't on the internet wavelength and hopefully inspire more creative work to appear online whether they're from a studio like Eisner's Vuguru or made by a group of talented high school and college students who band together to bring the level of entertainment they crave directly to the audience in the wonderful democratic equalizer of high-speed technology.
Of course, this begs the question of whether or not shows like Prom Queen will soon make regular theatre going obsolete and while I certainly doubt that, I definitely welcome the challenge and any opportunity to bring more voices to a diverse world tired of being presented with the same spoon-fed choices again and again. Long live the Prom Queen.