The recipe for the perfect made-for-the-web series: short; fast paced; quick to the plot; narrative that appeals to young, digital, time-starved audiences; likeable characters and just enough PG-13 action to know you are not a typical network TV program. “Backpackers” follows this template for what will be henceforth deemed the perfect twentysomething multiscreen comedy. Launched by CW Seed, the digital-only studio of the CW Network (that’s a Warner Bros.-CBS venture), “Backpackers” is one of a new slate of shows, including the animated “Gallery Mallory” and “The P.E.T. Squad,” a show about ghost hunters. Whether CW considers these original shows as a way to field test concepts for new “network” programming, or sees its digital business as standalone entity with a viable business model, remains to be seen.
There’s nothing all that original about “Backpackers.” Ryan (Noah Reid) and Beth (Meghan Heffern) are an engaged couple, and prior to the wedding, they realize the key to a long and happy marriage is to sow any last-minute wild oats. This lame (but rich-with-possibilities) idea leads to a kiss-and-don’t-tell pact in which they individually embark on European adventures of flirty days and wild nights, ending with Ugly Americans prancing in centuries old Parisian fountains. Led by his rather stereotypical womanizing bud Brandon (Dillon Casey), debauchery ensues for Ryan, but the proceedings come to a grinding halt when conscience interruptus reminds the would-be groom that his wife-to-be is perhaps entering into her own trysts. Such a notion shakes Ryan to the core and, we are led to believe, subsequent episodes will be aimed at finding Beth, even though the deal included a total state of incommunicado.
Everything about “Backpackers” echoes a professional tone, from the production in which Canadian backdrops are a solid stand-in for some exotic foreign locales (not to say parts of Canada such as the Yukon are not exotic) to the lead acting which universally stays within the bounds of your typical serial dramedy. The show is a product of Shaftesbury Films, a Toronto-based production company which has its own digital division, Smokebomb Entertainment. The success of future-facing projects such as CW Seed and other studio-funded programming for digital channels (such as recent shows announced by NBCUniversal) will dictate the pace at which production companies, such as Shaftesbury, who have in the past filled the broadcast airwaves with 30- and 60-minute shows, will be willing to invest in and experiment with new forms of multiscreen entertainment.