Episodic web series have a self-contained adventure every week. Like sit-coms and procedurals on TV, story arcs can develop over the season, but each episode can be enjoyed individually as a stand-alone story.
Episodic series work well when they have very strong characters that viewers want to tune in to watch every week. If you have interesting characters but a more plot driven story, you may want to choose a serialized format. One perk to an episodic show is that you can engage new audience members quickly, since they wont be intimidated by having to watch ten or more episodes to catch up. Then again, serialized stories leave viewers on edge, waiting to see what happens in the next episode.
Some episodic shows have actual ACTS for each episode: For example, Act I could be the initiating event, ending with a heightening of stakes for the main character(s), Act I the characters work to solve the problem, only making it worse and heightening stakes further, Act III there is a resolution and perhaps a twist at the end. Others are more loosely structured. As a TV writer, I always enjoy and appreciate structure. But everyone’s different. Find which type of series works best for your story.
Types of Episodic Series
WGA award nominated series Jack in A Box is an episodic series about Jack, a frustrated actor working in a Box Office. Each episode is structured around Jack dealing with a new guest star, one of the many bizarre people in his life. I personally think this series could benefit from a little more of the act structuring described above, but it’s a great example of a show where, if you like the main character and the style, you can look through the episodes and pick the one with the guest star that looks fun to you.
Broad City, which was just picked up to pilot by FX with Amy Poehler producing, is an example of a loose beat series where every episode has a different structure. Some of the shorter episodes may veer towards Slice of Life, but there is always twist or a reveal at the end that adds to the tension or reveals deeper relationship between the characters.
Whole Day Down is an example of an episodic web series where each episode has a beginning, middle and end. When you sit down to watch an episode, you know what to expect format wise. This show is wacky beyond belief and you certainly don’t know what you’re going to get from the issue-laden main characters or the bizarre artist they feature each week in their gallery. You do know, however, that an artist will come and the exhibit will fail in one horrendous way or anther. You also know there will be a subplot revolving around the tangled love triangle and hints at the impending apocalypse.
Show Within A Show
Some episodic shows are formatted like fake reality TV shows, where each episode has a new guest or feature. Breakfast in the Morning by UCB alum Will Reese, for example, is a faux cooking show where the host cooks breakfast for the girl he slept with (or tried to) the night before.