2013 is bright with a booming field of YouTube channels all competing for views. Smaller screens, much like smaller venues for comedy and music, have lead to a proliferation of new work. But with the field so dense it's often hard to find out what's worth watching. One current crowd standout is Neil's Puppet Dreams, the new brainchild of co-executive director and star Neil Patrick Harris, an actor well known from Doogie Howser, M.D., How I Met Your Mother, and another early web series success, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. Aired by The Nerdist Channel, the humorously progressive show is made by The Jim Henson Company, and similar to the Muppets movies contains many self-referential jokes, but with a far more modern feel.
The premise of the show is that Neil sleeps a lot and when he dreams, he dreams in puppet. The star plays himself alongside real-life partner David Burtka. In the first episode, in classic dream stereotype, Neil is falling from the sky. Except he doesn't wake up before he hits the ground, instead a band of puppet guardian angels sing him a lullaby, crooning: "Your insides, will be outsides, by the end of this dream." Episode two finds Neil in a doctor's office desperate for an explanation of his strange dreams. When he falls asleep thirty seconds in, a dream takes over: the doctor is now a puppet named Dr. Feltman.
The show is wide open about the context surrounding it: the divide over gay marriage and parenting, the portrayal of a gay man on television, and to quote from episode nine, the potential "shit storm" of angry online comments from both camps. The finale, another musical, embraces all this complexity. Neil stretches the "if two guys get married, what's next?" catch phrase to its hilarious breaking point. Sitting down to a take-out Indian dinner David and Neil have this exchange:
David: "You know our lives are like a Bollywood musical."
Neil: "Because it's an eternal tragedy that we are in love but are forbidden to be together by society? A common Bollywood theme."
David: "No, because we sing and dance a lot."
Afterward Neil falls asleep mid-tv-dinner and is suddenly the star of a Bollywood movie about his forbidden love for a puppet cow. The metaphors run thick and obvious by design and the show is all the better for it. Episodes vary in style but are all full of intentionally corny jokes and playful winks to the fans. It is funny and warm in a way that makes the show feel simultaneously intimate and broad. Neil's Puppet Dreams is reflective of its title character's on-screen personality: energetic, humorous, and honestly gay -- not a corporate conception of what audiences want to see, but a personal expression of feeling.
Neil's Puppet Dreams is come-as-you-are content, with nothing if not obvious passion, a cohesive point of view, and a faith that viewers will get on board. It's a truly internet-specific show in all the right ways and with the first episode at over a million views, people are obviously watching. With Neil's Puppet Dreams enthusiasm is back in style.
Watch the first season of Neil's Puppet Dreams on youtube.com.