Friday, March 13, 2009

THE HOUSE BETWEEN, Episode #19: "Switched"

How do you make a long-running sci-fi series with a literally nonexistent budget? Well… First, you call in all the favors that your friends and family owe you. Then you spend a lot of time coming up with interesting story ideas that can be told mostly through dialogue… because talk is cheap. John Muir’s stalwart Internet series The House Between may skimp on locations, props, and special effects but it has words aplenty. And for three seasons they’ve been getting the job done. Somehow Mr. Muir keeps coming up with new ways to make six people in an empty room talking to each other seem new and interesting.

In this week’s webisode, the words and faces may be familiar… but there’s some confusion about who’s saying what. In “Switched,” the minds of the characters get magically reshuffled into different bodies. The results: Arlo gets a shotgun, Bill gets pregnant and Travis gets lucky… sort of. It sounds like a farce – and, admittedly, there are some hilarious moments – but this potentially gimmicky idea unfolds in the service of the third season’s elaborate story arc, building on revelations in “Devoured,” Addicted,” and “Scared,” and setting up the final two episodes of the series.

In my opinion, “Switched” also shows how far this series has come in two and a half years. Had this story idea been rolled out during the first season, or even the second season, I don’t think it would have worked. Now, after everything they’ve been through, these characters are so intricately developed and the actors so intimate with the character dynamics that they can channel each other without missing a beat. They know each other’s quirks (not to mention quarks and quazoos) as well as the members of any loving but wildly dysfunctional family… which makes this episode a revelation.

The role reversals are funny, yes, but they’re also poignant and ultimately meaningful to the series. The lessons the characters learn from each other provide another quantum leap for Muir’s overarching space opera, setting the stage for the grand finale. Where will the denizens go from here? If history is any indication, Muir will continue to surprise.

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