Hulu's 'Battleground' worth watching

Tuesday, 14 February 2012 12:00 AM Written by 

battleground_leadIf quality is rewarded, Hulu deserves to have a hit with its first scripted series, "Battleground," debuting today at Hulu.com. Subsequent episodes will be released at the site weekly.

A far cry from past attempts at original, scripted series created for online sites, "Battleground" plays like a smart, well-written comedy series you might find on a premium cable network -- minus the profanity and nudity.

Written and directed by actor J.D. Walsh and executive produced by Marc Webb ("500 Days of Summer"), each 22-minute "Battleground" episode follows the staff of a candidate in the Wisconsin Democratic primary.

Read more after the jump. ...

The cast of "Battleground" is largely unknowns but that works in the show's favor: The actors carry no baggage from past roles.

Tak Davis (Jay Hayden) is head campaign strategist for candidate Deidre Samuels, who has a pushy husband and a numbskull stepson, Jordan (Jordan Maxwell). "Battleground" is shot mock documentary style (a la "The Office") but in this show there are actual acknowledgements of the camera crew and in episode two one of the photographers is seen on camera. Tak also tries to persuade him to delete unflattering footage, a nice change from the mockumentaries that completely ignore the camera crew.

battleground_kidEager intern Ben Werner (Ben Samuel, left) helps bring viewers into this political world and it's hard to imagine a better guide. Nerdy, smart and bearing some resemblance to a dorkier Daniel Radcliffe, Ben is both the butt of jokes but also an endearing character who quickly becomes more important to the campaign than a mere intern usually is.

The premiere episode introduces a bounty of other characters, including speech writer Cole Graner (Jack De Sena) and head of media operations KJ Jamison (Teri Reeves). Relationships emerge along with rivalries as "Battleground" gets into the nitty-gritty tactics of campaigning in a way I haven't seen since the last season of "The West Wing."

In addition to the mock documentary conceit, each of the 13 "Battleground" episodes also includes interviews with the participants taped sometime after the election. This offers a glimpse of character development and foreshadowing of what's to come.

The show's humor is somewhat muted, as mockumentary humor often is, but it is an amusing show populated by (mostly) believable characters. Tonally it reminds me of a half-hour dramedy, but more engaging than one of those pretentious cable slogs like "Bored to Death" and less cynical than "Tanner" or "Tanner '88."

Production-wise, "Battleground" looks no cheaper than any other faux documentary but its writing and characterizations are significantly better than any of the mid-season comedies that have debuted on TV. I'd much rather see more "Battleground" than more "House of Lies" or "Rob" or "Chelsea."

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