Let me start by saying that I have no idea what motivated me to open my laptop, turn on the webcam, and hit record on October 25, 2008. I honestly can’t remember if I was merely intrigued by this relatively new technology for film or if the germination of the character who would eventually become Reilly had been sprouting in my subconscious for a time. Whatever I thought I was doing, I was embarking on an experiment without the slightest inkling of how it would change my life.
The first episode of Reilly’s Dorm is actually really boring to watch, in retrospect. A college kid with an afro sits on his bed, talking directly to the viewer through his laptop webcam in a mishmash East Coast accent that’s difficult to pin down. Mumbling the entire time, he introduces the audience to his world and his belongings: A roll of duct tape, a lava lamp, a Deep Purple CD, a tiny statue of the Buddha. After I finished riffing, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I showed it to my friend and comrade in wild ideas, Will McDonald, and he liked it. But he thought that it was missing something: Reilly needed a roommate.
The first episode with the character of George is where the series truly comes to life. Reilly’s roommate George is an athlete, a doer, and a bully. There is instant friction between the two characters and it is beautiful. Because from this point forward, the show has sharp dialogue and engaging plot lines springing from that central conflict — two roommates who didn’t get along.
Before we started filming, Will and I agreed on the simple rules that would guide the entire development of the show from that point on: Reilly’s Dorm would be unscripted. Aside from a vague scenario to work from, each episode was an unfolding creation that relied on improvisation. I didn’t know what Will was going to say or do. He didn’t know how I was going to respond. We would discover what was going to happen in real time, in one take, with a single camera that never moved and never cut away.
Looking back on that insane premise, it’s surprising to me that so much of Reilly’s Dorm is watchable at all, let alone interesting and funny. (Like so much comedy, not all of Reilly’s Dorm’s jokes aged well. There are moments of sexism, homophobia, and stereotyping that surface in some episodes that are sadly indicative of the time when it was made that I’d sooner forget.) But when the show clicks, it’s just as watchable as it was 10 years ago.
Soon after George’s introduction, the show took off and added a slew of memorable recurring characters: melodramatic villains Holmes and Lucy, college mob boss Fred, drunken frat boy Scott, dueling RAs, Reilly’s ex Kessie, and a host of others. Each episode was produced in a mad flurry of activity with the crew and I sometimes making three or four episodes in a single night. The audio was terrible; the lighting was worse. And yet, people seemed to connect to it.
Over the short run of Reilly’s Dorm, I started to get recognized around Flagstaff by complete strangers. I made a couple of good friends with people who were fans of the show. We even sold a poster that claimed “Everything I Need to Know I Learned From Reilly’s Dorm” with 100 quotes, tropes, and jokes from the web series. For a short blip, we were YouTube famous and we didn’t know what to do with it. Above all, it was fun to make.
Rewatching my favorite Reilly’s Dorm episodes always transports me back to that crazy year in my life when I somehow conned a lot of my friends to come over to my house and play pretend for a few hours. It was altogether delightful and I think you can tell when you’re watching that we were enjoying ourselves (and often trying not to break character and burst out laughing). All these years later, that sense of fun is still infectious.
This week, I hope you take a few moments to laugh with us and we revisit some of our favorite moments from the 96-episode run of Reilly’s Dorm. Thanks for watching!
Join Obscure Studios as we celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Reilly’s Dorm with our top 10 favorite episodes this week on our website and Facebook page!
-Jonny Eberle, President and CEO, Obscure Studios