The Guild is one of the great success stories of the internet age. It may not have taken the world by storm in the same way that Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog did, but this season came out of the gate strong with the "Do You Want to Date My Avatar" music video, which shot to the top of the iTunes download chart and earned 1 million YouTube hits in two days. It was a brilliant marketing move, the sort of pop-culture flotsam that people love to forward to friends and jabber about in blog posts. Thankfully, the show behind the video is more than just a passing subject of water-cooler discussion. Writer/creator Felicia Day proves yet again that behind all the adorable awkwardness and the delightful singing voice lies a sharp talent for writing comedy, scripting The Guild's best season yet, rife with betrayal, arch-enemies, and Wil Wheaton in a kilt.
For those unfamiliar, The Guild follows the "Knights of Good," an eccentric group of friends who spend most of their time online playing an unnamed multiplayer game that bears an uncanny resemblance to MMO juggernaut World of Warcraft. Initially they knew each other only through their screens and headsets, but over the previous two seasons they've upgraded their relationships to IRL status (that'd be "in real life" for the uninitiated). As season three begins, Cyd "Codex" Sherman (Felicia Day) is in dire straits. The Knights are divided by petty bickering as they wait in line outside Gamestop to purchase the new game expansion that will hopefully distract and unify them. Those hopes are dashed by the arrival of a mean-spirited rival guild calling themselves the Axis of Anarchy. Thanks to the machinations of bekilted AoA leader Fawkes (Wil Wheaton), the Knights of Good soon find themselves tricked to the back of the line. Knights head Vork (Jeff Lewis) resigns in shame over the debacle, ceding leadership to an unwilling Codex and leaving to "find himself." To make matters worse, fellow guild-y Tink (Amy Okuda) decides the grass is greener in the Axis of Anarchy and jumps ship for the competition. Codex is left with a scattered and dispirited guild, an expansion no one has the heart to play, and a new pack of arch-rivals who have decided to make it their mission to ruin the Knights of Good's lives both in-game and out.
While The Guild is absolutely chock-full of references and inside jokes to World of Warcraft in particular and gaming in general, you don't have to be a devotee of either to enjoy the show. Behind all the talk of DPS and tanks, The Guild is almost a weird sort of workplace comedy. Sure, these characters must theoretically have real jobs (at least the ones that don't live at home), but for all intents and purposes The Game is their job. It certainly consumes more passion than any burger-flipping, customer-servicing, or IT-supporting they might be doing to pay the bills. You don't have to be a gamer to laugh at Clara's (Robin Thorsen) complete lack of parental responsibility, leaving her kids amidst a tangle of plugs and cords while she focuses on leveling her character up. Even if don't even know what the letters MMORPG stand for, you won't have any trouble finding the humor in Zaboo's (Sandeep Parikh) gleeful ignorance when it comes to concepts like personal space or inappropriate conversation topics. Day has written a colorful, distinct cast that are just exaggerated enough to be really damn funny, but close enough to reality to be even funnier for those of us who spend time in the gaming trenches and know these people. (Tink actually brought an exclamation of "She's me!" from a good friend of mine.)
Day's decision to introduce a cast of arch-nemeses this season was brilliant, both because it gives the season a solid arc and because it allows her to mock gamer archetypes she hadn't gotten around to yet. Chief amongst these is Wheaton's Fawkes, the sort of big fish in a small pond who uses other people's quotes to buttress his own feelings of superiority and who wears a kilt on a daily basis and without a shred of irony. Much of the fun of this season is watching poor Codex try to appeal to the Axis of Anarchy's wholly absent senses of reason and compassion, which only spurs them to find new ways to torment her and her friends. As fans of The Big Bang Theory know well, Wheaton is great fun when playing a dick, and in Fawkes Day has given him plenty of dick to play with. Wait, that didn't come out right...
There really isn't a weak spot anywhere in this cast. Day has more than proven her acting chops to anyone who knows her from Buffy or Dr. Horrible, and her turn as Codex is an always-hilarious mix of insecurities and good intentions. The whole ensemble throws themselves into their roles with gusto and a total lack of shame, and there's not a one of them that doesn't deserve to be getting regular, better-paying work on top of their ongoing commitment to The Guild.
And seriously, Vork's season-long quest for a decent wifi connection is the stuff of legend.
With The Guild having made itself available via damn near every outlet imaginable -- the official webpage, YouTube, Netflix streaming, Xbox Live -- some might ask, "Why should I fork over 15 bucks when I can just watch the show for free online?" Well, first of all -- it's 15 bucks. Despite the protestations of belligerent teenage pirates everywhere, information may want to be free, but entertainment has bills to pay. If you like the show, your 15 bucks makes it that much more likely that we'll get more of it in between commercial gigs. Quit your bitching and help pay Ms. Day's water bill already.
For those of you in need of more mercenary motives, for less than $20 this disc is packing an outstanding array of extras. To start with, all 12 episodes have two separate audio commentary tracks, one with the cast and one with Day, a producer, and a director. Sure, the episodes are only five to eight minutes apiece, but all told that's nearly two feature-length commentaries' worth of information. Fortunately, both tracks are worth listening to, with the cast track being more silly and fun and the crew track providing more nitty-gritty making-of details (but still in an entertaining way).
There's plenty of fan service, such as the bonus Halloween episode and the "Guild Applications," videos submitted by fans hoping to earn "membership" in the Knights of Good. What's cool is how many of these extras go beyond the standard making-of insights and provide real tips for how to pursue your own creative impulses and maybe become a YouTube sensation yourself (the "Tips for Making a Web Video" and "How to Build Vork's Sword" featurettes). These, combined with the crew commentary, will be invaluable for anybody who's got their own Guild stewing in their brain but isn't sure how to let it out.
All of the above would already make for a great deal, but there's still more fun to be had. You'll get your own copy of the aforementioned "Do You Want to Date My Avatar" music video, which is a delightfully double-entendred skewering of both gamer culture and mid-'90s dance hits, and which features Felicia Day looking stunning and writhing seductively atop a pile of gold coins. The video is also accompanied by a making-of segment that explains where the idea came from, and how Day enlisted Dr. Horrible's Jed Whedon to lend his musical talents to the cause. Top everything off with interviews with the Axis of Anarchy actors and a gag reel and there's really no downside to this purchase. Plus, you get to see Wil Wheaton lose his shit in slow motion after being attacked by a small flying insect during filming. What's not to love?