As you’ve probably already figured out, I’m a pretty big fan of Penny Arcade. One thing that I was always curious about, spurred by Mike and Jerry’s mishaps in their early years, was how a company based around a web comic about games could operate. They’d drop hints from time to time, but for the most part, the thing was a mystery. How did they run PAX with a staff of twelve? What about Child’s Play, their gamer-themed charity benefiting hospitalized children? With the first season of Penny Arcade: The Series, many of those questions were answered. So, what was left over for the second season?
The first season of the show was put together by 2 Player Productions, who later went on to bigger things. In retrospect, those episodes were more ‘showy’, with more drawn out shots and constant breaks in the fourth wall as we see the camera crew. Vantage Point Productions took over for the second season and tightened things up for better, or worse. The pace of these new episodes is quicker, but the jump cuts between slightly different angles for many in-office interviews is irritating. The second season also features a needlessly elaborate opening sequence — instead of the simple whip-pan of the original — with distractedly tarty chip-tunes draped over pretty much everything. Everything considered, I don’t know if I’d say they traded up with Vantage Point.
Penny Arcade: The Series gets chummy with each of the staff, from the ruthless business lead Robert Khoo, to the star creators themselves –Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins — to even the advertising and merch dudes. As a fan, it’s intriguing to see these stories, but let’s be frank: the show is about Penny Arcade, exclusively. This is a web show, ten minutes an episode, thirty-one per season, for Penny Arcade fans. If you’re not already invested in the comic, then this won’t persuade you, however intriguing and nerdy the crew is.
The show follows the same episode roster as the first season, along several themes. It starts with PAX and covers Child’s Play, PAX East, and another addition to the staff. There are also some clever distractions as well.
Around the office
The bulk of the show’s run involves the crew and their escapades inside the workplace, like Robert’s elaborate pranks with the rest of the staff. This year, the roster got large enough that the company leased another office, so they move in. It’s exciting as it sounds. Penny Arcade decides to hire an assistant manager for the Child’s Play charity, which results in a pretty uncomfortable two-part interview cycle. These episodes are less about Mike and Jerry and more about the secondary staff that keep the company running on a day-to-day basis. Really though, I think Robert’s the star, because he’s an intriguing guy.
Out of the office
From the mammoth PAX expos to an interesting bachelor party that Robert throws for the head of advertising, it’s neat to see everyone out of their element, whether it’s walking hundreds of miles around convention centers or teeing off on a tipsy rowboat. The most touching episode however, is the Child’s Play feature in which they show a Seattle hospital with a section dedicated to letting kids play as they recover, or worse, as they’re on their way out. It’s a touching episode and the charity is easily one of the most important things that Mike and Jerry have ever dreamt up. It’s great to see how far it’s come from the storage unit full of video game hardware.
The Fourth Panel
What began as a sporadically updated podcast so many years ago is now in video form: the production of the actual comic. These cover a handful of strips in the season, showing how creators Krahulik and Holkins formulate each concept. They’re interesting, but the fact that they skip over a major aspect of the comic, namely Mike actually producing the art, is kind of a letdown. While he’s talked about production in the books and occasionally livecasted the creation process, it’d be really cool to see a technical breakdown of how he does it in real-time.
Mike Kurtz (PvP) and Kris Straub (a bunch of comics) co-habitate with the Penny Arcade staff and are regularly involved with the company’s outings. Having not read their comics (or really caught up with their Blamination! series), and despite how amusing they are, the time dedicated to them doesn’t really seem like a value add. In recent weeks though, the duo’s actually raised funds to produce their own series. The second season also dedicates four episodes to their ping pong matches with game developers, which never came across as interesting to me.
In the end
I said it before, this is a show for the fans. While I enjoyed the second season, I can’t see how they can justify a third season. Do we really need more ping pong matches or episodes about their grueling production of PAX? Not really. We get it. It’s how I felt watching this season having seen a lot of it the first time around. These two seasons have shown is that Penny Arcade is a company that’s about to plateau. How much bigger can a company about a web comic get? While I’m optimistic that their new movie could send them in brave new directions, I’m sure they can do better things with the talent and resources.
Maybe they’ll surprise us.
You can view the entirety of Penny Arcade: The Series here, for free (well, minus an ad).