YouTube Red TV review: Scare PewDiePie
James R | On 17, Feb 2016
Every Wednesday, we take a look at a web series. This week, it’s YouTube Red original Scare PewDiePie.
For over 10 years, YouTube has existed quite happily on the Internet, streaming videos to any old – or, more specifically, young – person who comes along. Last year, though, saw the site launch its own subscription service, YouTube Red, which charges customers $10 a month for no adverts, offline downloads and exclusive content. Now, the first of those projects have arrived.
Scare PewDiePie is one of four exclusive titles for YouTube Red subscribers and it stars – you guessed it – PewDiePie. The vlogger, whose real name is Felix Kjellberg, has become synonymous with YouTube. He’s the most popular creator on the site and one of the wealthiest too. If you’ve ever delved into the world of YouTube, or even read a news story about it, you’re almost guaranteed to have heard of him.
It’s only natural, then, that the site’s first steps into exclusive pay-wall territory should feature Felix. The problem is that they need to come up with something for him to do: parting with $10 a month (or persuading your parents to) means that viewers don’t just expect more in terms of quantity, but more in terms of quality. The question of whether PewDiePie’s videos are worth paying for has never been raised before – and, for all of Felix’s success, that’s the yardstick against which YouTube Red’s content must, at least partly, be measured.
The show’s premise is simple: a group of people attempt to “scare the absolute shit” out of PewDiePie. And so he faces a string of escalating scenarios inspired by various video games, starting with a trip to the doctor. Collected each episode by his producer, he’s then driven to somewhere where a group of actors try to freak him out – and, all the while, we see a heart monitor tracking how fast his ticker is going.
The set-ups themselves are impressively elaborate, with Episode 7 – inspired by 2013 survival horror game Outlast, which takes place in a psychiatric hospital overrun by murderous patients – pulling out as many stops as possible. PewDiePie, meanwhile, continues to display the easygoing charisma that has won him so many fans online (although, given he introduces himself to everyone he meets on-screen with his real name, you wonder why he continues the high-pitched moniker for addressing the audience).
The actors around him, unfortunately, are far less convincing. It’s quite simply impossible to buy into any of it – and even harder to buy into the fact that PewDiePie really is scared. Even if the first episode catches him off guard, it’s dubious that any of the subsequent stunts will repeatedly fool him. There’s no real sense of peril, either; we’re told that it’s important for Felix’s heart rate to stay below a certain level, but never told why. Even the risks that the filmmakers try to make more tangible fail to ring true – one threat is an obsessed fan, who’s depicted as the kind of stereotypical devotee that doesn’t do the general perception of YouTube audiences many favours.
The series is produced by Skybound Entertainment, the company co-founded by The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman. But a smattering of gore and the prestigious behind-the-scenes connection don’t help to elevate what are essentially a series of hollow pranks, stretched out to 30 minutes. It’s good to see Kjellberg embracing the opportunity to try something different (and be so willing to make a fool of himself on camera), and Scare PewDiePie is a commendable experiment with a new format, but YouTube Red’s exclusives don’t just stand alongside other YouTube videos; they also stand alongside Netflix and Amazon Prime Video’s original content – and the difference in budget, class and excitement here is sizeable. YouTube has always benefited from, and capitalised upon, the homemade chic of the individual contributors that make up its community, but YouTube Red is a commercial step-up and it requires a similar step up in production values.
Even compared to other YouTube videos, the series suffers somewhat, with Mutant Spider Dog and a 2013 viral marketing scare related to Curse of Chucky both managing to be funnier and more convincing examples of horror pranks. ITV’s Release the Hounds, meanwhile, one of the stupidest reality TV shows around, at least has a cash prize on offer for contestants who make it through to the end.
Episode 7 of Scare PewDiePie is available on YouTube as a free preview for the whole show, with subscribers in the US having to stump up the $10 a month to get more (a new episode is released every Wednesday). In the UK, though, each episode costs £1.89 individually, taking the whole programme up to a total of just over £17, with none of the other YouTube Red perks. Scare PewDiePie? This offers less bang for your buck and more disappointing bumps in a night.