Anatomy of a Web Series Hit

“What about the 100th time?” a woman asks Agent Luke Weber, government investigator. That’s the fundamental question asked in “RCVR,” a new Web series about UFOs. The government can explain paranormal activity and UFO sightings 99 out of a 100 times, but people who have seen or experienced the out-of-the-ordinary have to ask, “What about the 100th time?”

Set in 1973 Arkansas, “RCVR” follows government agents from a secret unit that is investigating a cover-up of extraterrestrial encounters. Along the way they interview people who have information allegedly given to them by aliens. With only the first three episodes released, the plot is still developing, and what we do learn are the questions that are being asked, not the answers. Cryptic? A little. But to say that “RCVR” is about aliens would be like saying “Lost” was about a plane crash.

The first episode introduces the characters and sets the tone for viewers. We know the agents are investigating a UFO sighting, but little else.  Listening to one side of phone calls between agents reveals that they know very little, other than that they need to be on the lookout for nose-bleeds (how “Lost” of them), and that there is a relationship developing between Weber and his boss. Then Weber is dragged up the wall and across the ceiling by a mysterious force, reminiscent of “Poltergeist.”

In the second episode, Weber heads out to a farm for more interviews. Driving with a nose full of toilet paper, he is forced to stop the car as a massive flock of birds suddenly dies and drop to the ground. Arriving at the farm, Weber is welcomed by a stereotypical rural family with the greeting, “Ma, the government is here again.” Heading into the barn out back, Weber finds three children huddled around a mysterious object. And the waiting game for viewers continues.

Clocking in at almost 10 minutes, “RCVR” would have to be above par in order to hold the attention of your average Web-video viewer. And with nearly 1 million views in its first week, “RCVR” is clearly doing just that. The second episode, released on Wednesday, already has close to 250,000 views, and the third episode, released simultaneously, has already topped 150,000 in just over 24 hours.

Distributed by Machinima, one of YouTube’s most popular channels for gamers, “RCVR” is a six-episode sci-fi mystery series, written, directed and produced by David van Eyssen, who is best known in Web circles for producing the BMW film series. Like those films, “RCVR” feels perfectly at home on the Web, but is vastly superior to nearly everything I’ve seen in terms of production quality. From lighting and sound design to special effects, “RCVR” raises the bar on what viewers can expect to see when they sit down to a new Web series. The series is supported by Motorola Mobility, although there appears to be very little, if any, product placement, with each episode begining with a standard pre-roll.

Plain and simple, I’m hooked. “RCVR” is the first Web series that I can honestly claim to be a fan of. And like “Lost,” I’m already frustrated by the suspense created when you’re presented with more questions than answers. But as I did for those six seasons, I’ll eagerly await next week’s episode.

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