If you haven’t heard of The Mercury Men, you’re probably not alone. The 10 episode series (7 minutes each) filmed for less than $10,000 was recently picked up by SyFy for distribution online, where all 10 episodes are now available. Written and directed by Chris Preksta and filmed as an independent production (yay indies!), it’s really something special.
Let me lay the story on you. It’s 1975, and apparently color hasn’t been invented yet. Edward Borman, a nobody stuck in a dead-end job, is about to leave the office after a hard day avoiding work. Only, before he can leave, his office building is seized by glowing aliens. Aliens that shoot lightning from their goddamn fingers.
Enter Jack Yaegar, gunslinging engineer who works for the mysterious “League”. It seems the aliens are hatching a doomsday plot, and they’re using Edward’s office building to stage it. If Edward and Jack don’t stop the invaders, Edward’s not going to have to worry about his job anymore.
So why is this web series so ridiculously awesome? Well, for starters, the series drips with retro coolness. Everything, from the concept to the script to the format is clearly inspired by the likes of the old Flash Gordon shows. There’s a bunch of nods to these old serials, and a few to more modern works that were also inspired by them, like Indiana Jones and Star Wars. Each episode ends on a cliffhanger, and it’s always one that leaves you frustrated (but in that good kind of way). Cliffhangers are a tricky art to master, but Preksta and the gang have pulled it off expertly.
But it’s not just the retro style that makes The Mercury Men cool. No, it’s the fact that they do it with a straight face. It’s got just enough cheese to make you smile, but not enough to make you cringe. Sure, they don’t take themselves too seriously, but it’s not a parody either. They’ve taken those stylistic trappings and made something new and beautiful out of it.
But it’s the main characters, Edward and Jack, that make the series into more than just another web serial. From Edward’s attempts to weasel his way out of every task that’s thrust upon him, to Jack’s cool-headed gunplay (the dude fires glowing bullets from a revolver, and he does it with class), that are the real draw. From the minute you first meet them, you already have a clear idea of who these people are. Not an easy thing to do in 7 minute episodes. Sure, the characters are archetypes, but that’s in no way a bad thing. Hell, it just adds to the old-timey feel of the show. But more importantly, it’s the fate of these characters that makes you watch “one more episode, for real this time” when the To Be Continued title pops up on screen.
And it’s these characters that make you want to want to scream when the series ends on (you guessed it) another cliffhanger. (If you’re reading this, Chris Preksta and crew, you best be making Season 2. Especially if you don’t want your brain to end up in a jar.)
So follow the crew on Twitter and check out the trailer below, then watch the first episode. If you’re outside the US, like me, you may have trouble getting access to the show on Hulu. Try iTunes, or you can be a bit naughty and use a proxy server to get around the regional restrictions. Or else you may just have to wait until it comes to your country.
But to hell with that. That’s one cliffhanger I don’t need.