The new local web series “Hench Hunt” is ostensibly a reality TV show wherein Doctor Professor Corrupto, D.D.S. (Nathan Woodard), is looking for a new hench person. It’s basically “The Bachelor,” but purposefully evil.
The first webisode starts with a “Previously on Hench Hunt” recap. Don’t get confused, the rest of the fictitious reality TV show doesn’t exist.
Series director Grant Vance and the team of writers, which includes Vance, Zac Carman, Emilie Parker Strange, Ken Townsend and Eric Groovely, chose to focus on the reality show’s final episode, when the competition has been winnowed down to four finalists.
The dramatic conceit and type of humor on display in “Hench Hunt” is not groundbreaking. There is a surfeit of stories about nerds in the zeitgeist, and the sheer tonnage of meta takes or satirical versions of superhero universes could choke a sandworm.
But two things set “Hench Hunt” apart.
First, there’s a story. No, not a plot, though there is one of those, too. More than just a series of events, the story of “Hench Hunt” actually allows Professor Corrupto to grow and change. He is fundamentally different at the end of “Hench Hunt” than he was at the beginning.
Creators often forget story is important.
Woodard, a standup comedian, shows an excellent ability to scale down for the camera. “Hench Hunt” is slapstick and huge, but Woodard spends the majority of his time deadpanning for the camera. The sincerity and honesty we see in his moments of grief and anger go the extra mile in making his journey that much funnier.
It would be interesting to see what could happen if he turned those skills to a drama.
Like this year’s “Captain Marvel,” “Hench Hunt” also avoids the umptillionth retelling of the tired “Hero finds a love interest” story.
The second reason “Hench Hunt” succeeds is that it allows all its characters to brew their own humor, based on their personalities and interactions, rather than coasting on in-jokes about stuff like hentai, clones (“The Wars” or “The Saga”) and the obligatory nod to the Han-shot-first controversy.
Those characters, much like the conceit of “Hench Hunt,” are not groundbreaking — there’s Clodhopper (Zac Carmen), a redneck hick; Nina Necrosis (Emilie Parker Strange), a goth girl with demonic powers; Imperious Pex (Sean Smith), guns and big muscles; and The Spurt (Gracie Taylor), who gets the familiar combo of speedster powers and impatience.
But all these characters connect with the audience and provide big laughs, because the writers and performers have built characters with the internal conflicts and multiple character traits needed to elevate a comedy to something more than a collection of sight gags and one-liners.
Take Imperious Pex. This character is immediately recognizable as a mocking representation of the ’90s-era comic characters best typified by Rob Liefeld’s creations. Pex has a ludicrous number of chains, ammo pouches and weapons. And we never see his feet.
But the creators don’t leave it there. Pex’s over-the-top preening and posturing hides a normal guy who is doing his best to perform a manliness that does not come to him naturally.
As Nina Necrosis, Strange conjures more than goth-girl cliches and “Daria” eye-rolls to find a real discomfort and sense of being out of place. She plays the dichotomy of an actual sense of superiority versus the hiding her insecurity with fake superiority to great comedic effect.
Carmen jumpstarts Clodhopper’s doe-eyed hick schtick with a childlike enthusiasm and purity of emotion that lets the audience laugh at his stupidity, while still feeling empathy and connection.
Taylor brings her consistently hilarious ability to imbue characters with a classic Looney Tunes goofiness to the table. The Spurt’s speed-based powers require the most interactions with special effects, and Taylor’s skill at physical comedy is on display through the zany and energetic jumps, starts and stops we associate with a speedster.
With a team of writers and a crew of performers who riffed and goofed through the whole shoot, Vance wrangles a cohesive and engaging whole, which editor Joe Stockton helped solidify in the editing bay.
Stockton also shot and scored “Hench Hunt,” and his solid work in production is key to making sure story and character can shine.
Brian Barrow rounds out the trio of producers, under the auspices Destination Nation Network, and Barrows also produced “Bagged and Bored.” Barrow additionally turns in a nice performance in one of the later episodes, though I’ll let audiences discover him and his surprise character for themselves.
Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t “The Godfather” or even the “The Last Jedi,” which is the best “Star Wars” since “Empire Strikes Back” (#SaidWhatISaid #FightMe). I don’t want to overpraise “Hench Hunt,” as this is not groundbreaking stuff.
Each element functions well, and when they come together, they create a whole greater than the sum, which is how film and theater should work.
But I also don’t want to damn this series with faint praise. On multiple levels — including the writing, performances and production — “Hench Hunt” presents a new benchmark for Louisville’s onscreen comedic offerings.
Most of the team are involved in multiple projects in Louisville, I’m hoping “Hench Hunt” doesn’t stay a high-water mark for long but rather establishes a new status quo of higher quality.
Insider caught the full series last Sunday at Kaiju, but lucky for you, the first episode already is available online, with each of the four remaining episodes dropping weekly on Wednesday — until the final hench is benched.