If you haven’t seen The LXD, Paramount Digital and Jon Chu’s dance-centered web series, check it out now on Netflix (without breaks) and Hulu (in episodes). The web series, expensive for the form but cheap for what are essentially two feature-length films, is among the most high-profile web endeavors in years.
The second season premieres today with episodes one and two! This season we’re going from “the uprising begins” — all expectation and little resolution — to the “war happens,” which hopefully will mean action, villains and action!
To watch the second season, you’ll need to watch the 80-minute first season, which sets up the central tension in the series between The League of Extraordinary Dancers and the as-yet-amorphous villains, who are out to get them, for reasons unrevealed.
Perhaps the most gorgeously shot web series to date, The LXD is a serious investment in web storytelling. The story is semi-complex, depending how you see it. It revels in abstraction and suggestion, merely intimating the threat of violence and speaking vaguely about ambition, dreams and destiny — themes that appeal to young people today. I’m not sure whether its artfulness is intentional — it’s almost art-house — or merely intended to keep the focus off narrative and on the dancing. Art cinema for the ADD generation?
And trust: the dancing is good. Glee fans will recognize Harry Shum, whose powers come from an apparently magical pair of shoes that have mastered several different styles of dance. Also back are some veterans of Jon Chu’s Step Up 2 and 3D: including Chadd Smith (aka the “Robot Guy” from 3D and those Svedka commercials) and Aja George (the kid with the big hair), among numerous others.
The LXD is really all about dancing; most episodes are really more like music videos, with sparse or little dialogue whatsoever. For some, this is cheating, but I imagine it’s a smart move for the popular and internationally distributed series. It’s hard to get people who can act and dance — see, just about every dance movie since Fame. Moreover, for a product intended to cross global boundaries (a business model Crackle’s been banking on for years), the more story you can tell without subtitles, the more gracious your fan base.
Within that framework — a looming war and minutes-long dance numbers — The LXD manages to craft some wonderful sequences. A favorite episode of mine from last season featured a duet between two long-lost lovers, brought together by the uprising:
The series does have its flaws though. Aimed squarely at young men — the pleasurable if pandering “Fanboyz” episode demonstrates this most clearly — I found myself yearning for a serious female lead (who isn’t a tragic wife figure). The show does do a great job on diversity, perhaps the most racially diverse big-budget web series to date.
The lack of clear narrative causes some complications. If a particular dance sequence doesn’t work for you, it tends to drag — that said, because of the loose narrative, you can probably skip a lot of scenes. Moreover, it isn’t entirely clear how one “wins” a dance battle. After all, there’s little direct combat in The LXD, instead an amorphous sense of tension. This is quite artful, though it leads to a sense of confusion at first. How do we know who’s winning? I suppose the second season will answer that — already the first episode clears up a whole lot.
Nevertheless Paramount Digital and its producers have accomplished something here. When all is concluded, they’ll have essentially two full-length films to sell to distributors internationally, including Netflix here at home. It’s full story, something most web series creators lack the budget to achieve. Last but not least, The LXD ends up feeling much more sophisticated and ambitious than its costlier Step Up predecessors, showing how, given the lower budget but greater artistic leeway the web demands, certain directors can really up their game in the new medium. In the end, this may be LXD‘s most remarkable feat.