YouTube is nearly synonymous with vlogging, and the platform — with 1.5 billion active users each month, all of whom only need a camera and an internet connection — feeds into it. Most of the “YouTube stars” are vloggers or have gotten into vlogging, and some, such as Casey Neistat, elevate their production value immensely and truly transform the art.
After you watch one video, Sugar Pine 7 seems like a variation of the countless in the genre, a group of young guys, some from the now-defunct SourceFed, with more of a comedic edge and some cool editing.
That is, until you watch another. And another. And another. It may take a few more after that. It may take some brief Googling. But once we understand what Sugar Pine 7 is really doing, it’s clear that they’re carving an entirely new and groundbreaking space in online video.
Spoiler alert: It’s all a bit. It’s all improv.
Called “Alternative Lifestyle,” their videos are not scripted, but the scenarios are often invented and planned, and if they’re not, they’re played up to be ridiculous. It’s like “The Office” (for the faux reality) meets “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” (for the offbeat comedy), but made by YouTubers.
While not the first to do it, “The Office” revolutionized television by perfecting the mocking of the documentary style — hence “mockumentary.” Sugar Pine 7 is doing the same for online video, mocking the vlog and subverting all expectations that come with it.
Vlogging is meant to craft an intimacy with the audience and give a glimpse at some pure reality of the subjects on screen. In Casey Neistat’s case, that reality is intensely curated and polished. But Sugar Pine 7 leverages those qualities to delve further into this idea of intimacy, often using what would be deemed inappropriate, too much or too far, if real, for comedy.
It helps that each on-screen subject — mainly consisting of Steven Suptic, James DeAngelis and Clayton “Cib” James — are masters of a type of improv that lends itself to this format. Often delivering incoherent and incomplete sentences, while also hilariously berating and degrading each other, the three perform a kind of blunt, absurdist comedy that is then enhanced by almost parodic sitcom-esque music and blunt editing.
While at first Suptic’s freeze-frame narration may seem similar to that of “Arrested Development,” the specifics of what’s functioning are clearly divergent (ahem, IGN, ahem). With the emulation of vlog style in editing, the narration is not only a direct address, but an address of often the person doing the recording himself, rendering it even more direct and more personal — and momentarily, due to the narrator’s awareness of the absurdity, subverting its own mock format, its own subversion.
And that is precisely where Sugar Pine 7 takes it up a notch. Fictional vlogging can only go so far, only do so much and only be so sustainable. In fact, a purely mocking of vlogs threatens to separate the viewer from the content.
So, (I lied) Sugar Pine 7 actually does use moments — rather small moments, at that — of reality within their content, as well as moments of fiction that make viewers distinctly aware of that fiction. All of this adds dimensions to the format, but it also makes up for what the format threatens to lack: intimacy.
The team has an office out of which they work, and, since moving into it, they shoot a majority of their videos within the setting — a meta acknowledgement of the bit. The simple act of filming editor Autumn Farrell, despite her playing up her own “character,” is a complex meta acknowledgement of the person who literally composes the very videos we watch. We are even introduced to her, or her “character,” as Sugar Pine 7’s new editor. At the very beginning of the series, Suptic acknowledges the process itself, momentarily slipping into regular vlogging in some videos, exemplified in one literally titled “How we make these ‘vlogs’.” In this, we get their creative process, if sometimes as subtext, and can appreciate the craft.
For the latter circumstance, an episode titled “Fake Friends” features Suptic, DeAngelis and James talking about how they seem to not be hanging out outside of videos anymore — a situation, even if sprouted from a real place, comedically leveraged for the format. What this actually results in, however, is visibility of that real friendship in their creative chemistry.
But some of the most important disconnect from the disconnection comes when Suptic uses the end of a video to talk about the personal side of doing Sugar Pine 7, an endeavor he launched after SourceFed’s closure. At the beginning of the series, in an episode titled “Burned out.,” Suptic makes a real direct address not only about the sacrifices he’s making to create these videos, such as 15-hour work days, but also about the sacrifices that he’s put his fiancée Alyssa through, capping the video with an unnarrated vlog of a date between the two.
More recently, in an episode when they went to the Streamys and won the award for Show of the Year, Suptic makes another real and rather touching direct address about his view on doing what you love for a job and how those very 15-hour days were all worth it for a moment like that. The video ends with a shot of him sitting in front of the SourceFed office where he lost his job 6 months prior.
In those moments, we know our creators. We get the greatest intimacy of typical vlogging, but we also get content that represents brilliant collaborative creation. With vlogs, there’s this nagging sense, however unfounded it may be, of a lack of creation.
With Sugar Pine 7, we get our artists and we get our art.
We get an almost incomprehensibly complex play between reality and fiction that makes the most of its medium in a way that’s arguably more complex than even “The Office” — especially because they’ve also gone into the fully nonmocking fictional during their season 1 finale “Akrasia,” which, in its last three minutes, is essentially a short film.
In those ways, this is the fruit of online video, and it’s sweet.