[The Media Blog] The diversity problem of Nigerian Web Series

Nigerian Web Series

Long before the explosion of web-based content in the form of scripted dramas, television series were produced, packaged and aired as time-scheduled programming on television stations. Despite the obvious limitations of this terrestrial model, in terms of not having the luxury to rewatch an episode or binge an entire show, the ’90s and early ’00s gave us TV juggernauts like Checkmate and Super Story respectively. These shows, by their accessible simplicity, were saturated with themes like family and love and became cultural soapy archetypes that truly defined an era. But with the Internet now, and the gravitation towards web television and streaming services, we are provided with options that the terrestrial format lacked.

Today, many web series are culturally skewed towards the youth demographic, thanks to bank-created platforms like AccelerateTV and NdaniTV and the rest who are making the online environment quite competitive. From the resonant Skinny Girl in Transit to the millennial-appealing quality of Lagos Big Boy, there’s no doubt about whom these shows are meant for. What is noticeable, however, is that they are crammed into the comedy-drama genre. As someone who consumes a lot of speculative American TV shows, and sometimes comedies, I have developed a rather sophisticated palate. I only just started watching Skinny Girl in Transit this year, binge-watching the first three seasons for which I critically reviewed.

SGIT remains the only Nigerian web series I have devoted time to; it’s a cult favourite, NdaniTV’s flagship scripted drama with a lovable, relatable protagonist in Tiwa (Abimbola Craig) and how she navigates her world.

Now in its fourth season, it later struck me that I was, apart from professionally critiquing, only watching the show to feel among. Ideally, I will not watch a show like SGIT if there were other options to choose from. RedTV’s Inspector K, at first, stood out with a different complexity – a crime comedy about the ostentatious, titular Inspector K (Koye Kekere-Ekun) and his quest to solve a murder. Its trailer released in March was promising. “Not everything should be comedy and romance.” Ayomide Tayo had written for Pulse, “We want to watch something else. We want variety.”

With its millennial flair, procedural element, and Koye’s Instagram-harvested comic popularity, Inspector K pivoted into crime television and induced a mainstream appetite. Though its first season was frustrating, its presence in the high stream of boring dramedies provided a small comfort. But more needs to be done. There are a dozen other genres that creators and writers can experiment in, of course with a Nigerian sensibility. Particularly, I would like to see more serious, hardboiled crime series, fantasy, science fiction, horror, and cyber thrillers. The marketplace is competitively streamlined and the chances that you would find a speculative series are very slim. Web channels have a library of content stocked on comedies that, most of the time, I do not find funny.

With the online environment and its unique set of advantages and scope, one would think that diversity would come easy, given how the old-time terrestrial format had a tight monopoly on what we watch. Yet, these diverse series, even when they are made available, are plagued with the same issues like poor acting. Everything in Between is perhaps the boldest in diversity and representation, a gay series produced by TIERs, a human rights NGO known for other inclusive works like Hell or High Water. Like Inspector K, Everything in Between’s trailer was exciting on the face of its inclusiveness. Like Inspector K, too, the series dwindled in steam and became a chore, as opposed to being entertainment-deriving.

Though the current pool of shows are tailored to be simple and digestible and blissfully uncritical, a whole new pocket of viewers will be formed if the variety spectrum can expanded. And, like Pulse’s Ayomide Tayo, I would like to watch something else.

 

Bernard Dayo is a pop culture critic and writer. Follow him on social media @BernardDayo

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