As a means of expression, I've always ranked dance somewhere between finger painting and hip-hopera. Maybe part of this is borne out of jealousy -- I don't have two left feet so much as one left flipper and one right wheelbarrow tire -- but mostly it's due to an emotional and intellectual disconnect. I just don't get how a frisky pas de deux can denote longing or entanglement (other than in a literal sense), nor how a kick-drop-kick-step-sliiiiiiiiiide-preen combo can evoke a tableau other than "Jell-O shot Tuesdays" down in Belmar.
So I went into the prancing-inclined web series "The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers" expecting a big ol' mess of over-styled gyration. The show's overarching theme -- a gaggle of dancers, gifted with the ability to lambada over tall buildings in a single bound, join forces in "a legion of bravery, a legion of hope" to battle some mysterious ancient evildoer -- makes it sound sillier still. On the surface, "LXD" has massive conga-line-pileup-on-the-interstate potential.
Four minutes into the first of the three "LXD" episodes that has aired (new episodes debut every Wednesday on Hulu and on the LXD website), I realized that I was witnessing something unique and enchanting. Eight minutes in, I sent the link to my friends, my family and my on-retainer backup dancers. The lesson, as usual, is that under-informed preconceptions can be very hurtful -- and that I'm an idiot.
"LXD" is, by a wide margin, the most beautifully filmed, elaborately staged web series in the history of the medium. For all their fetching-weirdos-in-a-workplace charm, the series that preceded it looked as if they were conceived, written, shot and edited in a six-hour window. "LXD," on the other hand, arrives as fully formed as most feature films.
It comes with the aforementioned elaborate back story. It boasts a shimmery, cinematic hi-def sheen. It showcases a cast with limitless energy and talent. According to a recent Los Angeles Times story, a 100-strong crew and around 40 dancers are responsible for putting "LXD" together; in the level of detail and emotional nuance, this shows.
The three episodes that have aired so far are basically set pieces: one at a senior prom (I tell you, kids today, with the beat boxes and the iPod phones), another in an abandoned warehouse (chosen for its abundance of abandoned furniture to be danced on, over and around) and a third at what appears to be an underfunded veterans' hospital (complete with dank hallways and Frankensteinian surgical reconstructions). Each deftly characterizes a member of the legion -- they're invited to join via surreptitiously delivered letter, just like Supreme Court justices -- and each stands on its own. Of course, at some point down the road the characters will unite and take on the evildoers (the Dark Doctor and the ninja/ballerina Dark Nurse, also tightly sketched). When they do, the payoff should be sweeter for the show's patience in defining each character and his motivations.
The tone of "LXD" also departs from what viewers have come to expect from a web series. Most episodes, in fact, play like a fable; the sonorously intoned narration that commences every installment ("They all must choose to fill their destiny... or reject it") does wonders to set the scene and establish the dramatic stakes. Sure, sometimes "LXD" gets a bit carried away with the mythology-building -- on the LXD site, The "Illster" is described as "the eyes that are watching when no one is watching ... a hawk, a prince of precision and conduit of chaos" -- but the show doesn't dwell on it, instead focusing on mood and style. The third episode, for example, adopts a comic book's sharp angles and illustrated dialogue snippets.
As for the dancing itself, I wouldn't know where to start critiquing something that's so far outside my cultural purview. That said, it's awesome and impossible-looking. It should resonate with fans of "Dancing With the Stars" and "So You Think You Can Dance," as well as anyone who appreciates gravity-defying athleticism.
Despite my involvement in numerous high-stakes dance-offs (most of which went down after being outflanked at the library for a microfiche viewer), dancing is not my thing. Storytelling, however, is, and each episode of "LXD" packs a wealth of narrative sophistication into its eight or nine minutes. Combine this with the theater-worthy production values and a cast that exerts itself to an ungodly extent, and the end result is -- pun time! -- extraordinary. For web series, a genre still in its infancy, "LXD" resets expectations.