Title: Riese: the Series
Co-creators: Ryan Copple and Kaleena Kiff
Producers: Galen Fletcher and Nicholas Humphries
Cast: Christine Chatelain, Sharon Taylor, Ben Cotton, Patrick Gilmore, and Tundra as the wolf Fenrir
Shot on location in Vancouver, British Columbia
Summary: Eleysia (also known as “The Kingdom of the Wolf”) was once a great nation ruled by Empress Kara and Emperor Ulric. Then there was a coup, as there usually is, and the Empress’s cousin Amara assumed the throne. While Amara turned out to be a mega-tyrant, she is obviously having her strings pulled by a shady group called The Sect. The group has appointed itself the only religion in Eleysia, with the intention of expanding out of Eleysia’s borders into neighboring nations. One lone woman (Riese), along with her companion wolf (Fenrir), seems to be the only one who can help restore Eleysia’s peace and balance. She just needs to piece together her mysterious past before The Sect gets her first.
I’m pretty hooked on this series, and it’s only got five episodes in its first chapter (four of those episodes have been released as of Monday, December 14, 2009)! I was surprised by this because I’m not really into following web series or webisodes. Usually, episodes of a web series are around ten minutes long, and it’s hard to get a lasting interest in them because of this for me. It’s not a lot of time for anything to really happen, and if something interesting is happening, well, the episode’s over and you have to wait for the next ten-minute installment to hopefully carry on that momentum.
With Riese, this is all true as well. Four episodes in, and I still don’t have a clue what’s going on with this story. It seems to be a steampunk/mythology/fantasy story about a world being taken over by a dark “religious” organization, while an amnesiac woman with a wolf wanders around in the woods trying not to get dead. Not much from the summary has been revealed in the actual eps, so right now we kind of have to go on faith that the website isn’t leading us astray with that summary. So I’m left wondering why I have this site saved in my favs and check it out multiple times a week.
I think one of the reasons this series works for me where others hadn’t is that the “I have no idea what’s going on here” aspect works in the story’s favor. As the main character figures things out, the viewer gets to figure things out with her. I guess there’s some kind of satisfaction for me as a viewer to know the character I’m seeing the story through is as clueless as I am. The mysteriousness of what’s going on definitely makes The Sect seem more threatening — the outfit that Herrick the Senior Magister is sporting doesn’t hurt either.
That brings me to my next reason for liking this series — holy wow, are the production levels on this series crazy high. From the sets to the costumes, props, and locations, this looks like they have a budget way higher than you’d expect a mere web series would have at its disposal when not being put on by a major studio (to be fair, some of those “major studios” have put together some really crappy webisodes). Almost immediately, I was impressed with the style and seeming quality of the costume design. Someone actually put some thought into how each character would dress and how that dress would affect how the actor would portray said character, not to mention setting up a look and feel for the world being created here.
With some of the other web series I’ve seen, you kind of feel like the actors just turned up on set with their own clothes, with the set possibly being someone’s actual house. That’s not a bad thing; web series are usually available for free, so you wouldn’t expect them to have a huge budget to spend on things like wardrobe or location. It’s just really noticeable that they put some time, if not money, into things like the boots Riese wears or the tiny labels on the vials/boxes of medicine.
But it goes beyond just a web series: there is also an Alternate Reality Game (The Sect is Here) that is a companion to the main site. It centers around The Sect, getting players to solve various puzzles to try and figure out what the group’s “true” objectives are. On the main site, there are message boards and role playing games, if you’re into that kind of thing.
All the main actors are probably familiar to people in fandom (I think all of them have been in at least one version of the Stargate TV series, and Christine Chatelain is definitely recognizable to this Supernatural fan). For the second chapter, which is currently filming, they’ve got a couple of other actors from fandom lined up to star (Allison Mack and Alessandro Juliani). Having actors with experience in TV and film might also help bump up the quality of the series. However, Chatelain was the only actor I recognized as being a “real” actor, so that point is definitely up for debate.
The team behind this venture obviously has a great amount of enthusiasm and love for the story they’re trying to tell. If you’re into the fantasy/action with a pinch of steampunk (I think that will be a bigger element as the series goes on) genre, or interested in seeing what you can possibly do if you’re resourceful and willing to put in the effort with your own web series, Riese is definitely worth checking out.
Rating: 4.5 / 5 Stars